Seattle tops in Internet literacy

America’s Most Literate Cities

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Seattle ranks as the country’s top Internet literate city, one of the factors that helped it become the most literate city in 2005, according to an annual study.

It was the first time Internet data was included in the rankings for cities with populations more than 250,000 since the study – America’s Most Literate Cities – was first compiled two years ago. Previous versions included five indicators of literacy, such as newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources and education.

But there was a growing realization that more people read newspapers and other materials online, representing a different kind of reading behavior, said Mark McLaughlin, associate vice president of marketing and communication at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), which released the rankings.

McLaughlin said John Miller, the study’s author and CCSU’s president, and his researchers used data compiled by other companies and organizations, including Intel, Scarborough Research and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Internet literacy was indexed as four variables, including the number of library Internet connections per 10,000 library service population; the number of commercial and public wireless Internet access points per capita; the number of Internet book orders per capita; and percentage of adult population that has read a newspaper on the Internet. The four variables were then divided by the city population to calculate ratios of Internet resources available to the population.

Among Internet literate cities, Boston was ranked No. 2 followed by Austin, Texas, and San Francisco. Atlanta and Oakland, Calif., were tied for fifth.

Miller created the ranking because he’s interested in not only providing a richer portrait of Americans’ literate behaviors but also getting cities to respond to such information, McLaughlin said. For example, he said, El Paso, Texas, launched a citywide literacy campaign in response to being ranked low in the study.

In terms of overall literacy, according to the study, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and San Francisco followed Seattle.

McLaughlin said the study will likely evolve as more cities forge ahead with plans to implement wireless infrastructure. Cities nationwide are developing plans to provide broadband Internet connectivity for businesses, residents and tourists for a variety of reasons.

“As the data expands and gets richer and richer, I would guess it would have an impact on the study,” he said.

He said the country is in a transition period in which more people are reading online than on paper. He added that it will be interesting to see what kinds of reading behaviors emerge. McLaughlin said he had sworn that he would rather read a newspaper in print than on the Internet, but he now reads the New York Times on the Internet every day.

“It’s an interesting era we’re living in,” he said.

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