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Literate Seattle reaches a pinnacle

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Seattle is the nation's most literate city, in large part because its residents have access to and use Internet resources, a new survey says. Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and San Francisco round out the top five.

America's Most Literate Cities 2005, a ranking based on the culture and resources for reading in the 69 largest U.S. cities, aims to rate cities not on whether their citizens can read, but whether they do.

The data present a "nuanced portrait of our nation's cultural vitality," says author and education researcher John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Now in its third year, the survey examines a variety of sources to rank six factors: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and, new this year, Internet resources.

That category is based on number of library connections, commercial and public wireless access points per capita, online book orders and percentage of adults who have read a newspaper online. Seattle, Boston and Austin were the top three, respectively, in the category, helping catapult Seattle into the top overall spot. Seattle was second to Minneapolis last year.

Despite some reshuffling, the rankings have remained relatively stable. Besides Minneapolis and Seattle, six other cities -- Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Washington, Cincinnati, Denver and Boston -- are top-10 repeats.

Also different this year: The population threshold was raised to 250,000 from 200,000. Among the 17 cities dropped for that reason is Madison, Wis., fourth last year overall. Among the seven cities added because their populations had increased was Stockton, Calif., which landed in last place. El Paso, which was at rock-bottom last year, came in second-to-last this year.

But Miller says the survey's value "lies less in the absolute accuracy of the rank orders and far more in what communities do with the information." For example, he said, it was "heartening" that El Paso launched a citywide literacy campaign last year after the survey was released. One initiative, Read El Paso Read, distributed about 95,000 books.

The study is posted online at

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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