An annual survey of the nation’s most literate cities found Charlotte ranked 44th out of 82 cities, and well behind Raleigh and Durham.
The 13th annual survey by Central Connecticut State University focuses on six key literacy indicators: number of bookstores; educational attainment; internet resources; library resources; periodical publishing resources; and newspaper circulation.
In a statement, study author John Miller said these factors measure people’s use of their literacy and provide “a large-scale portrait of our nation’s cultural vitality.”
A city this size should have more bookstores.
The Last Word co-owner Matt Hicks
The top five cities in the rankings were Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta and San Francisco. Charlotte also ranked behind the trio of other North Carolina cities in the survey: Raleigh ranked 13th, Durham was 15th and Greensboro was 38th.
Charlotte’s ranking did not surprise Matt Hicks, co-owner of The Last Word used bookstore on North Tryon Street, especially given the few number of bookstores in the city.
“A city this size should have more bookstores,” Hicks said. He noted that his store has a steady stream of customers looking to buy books.
James Brewster, the manager of Park Road Books, agrees.
“There should be other full-service new bookstores in Charlotte,” he said. “We have a great collection of used book stores. They do wonderfully.”
Brewster said one challenge for bookstores is high rent.
“Commercial real estate is so expensive, and books are such a small profit margin,” he said.
Another factor, he said, is that Charlotte doesn’t have a large higher education presence for a city its size. There is no medical school. And Charlotte School of Law is a small, struggling law school.
“There are not as many universities within striking distance of center city than there are in Chapel Hill or Raleigh, where you have more people studying or teaching.”
There’s some solace for Charlotte readers, however, as the city has been improving its rankings somewhat. Its previous three rankings were 51, 52 and 50.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO Lee Keesler said he saw some good news in the survey. “The trajectory (of the rankings) is in a positive direction,” he said. “I take some comfort in the fact that this year is an improvement and I’d be very surprised if that isn’t the case going forward.”
Keesler also said Charlotte compares favorably with similar sized cities around the country. And he cited a number of projects the library system is involved with that promotes literacy.
For the last two years, for instance, the library has worked with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on its ONE Access Program that lets students check out books and have access to other resources with their CMS IDs acting as public library cards. The activity level of students using their cards is on the rise, Keesler said.
There are also other community partners that the library works with to promote literacy, he said, including Read Charlotte, which is focused on doubling the percentage of third graders reading at grade level by 2025.