Mixed messages on Alexandria being most well-read city


We ran an article last week on Amazon’s announcement of the best-read cities in the United States. Alexandria topped the list.

Well, that might not be the whole story. Amazon is using one set of data points to make their determination. But what if we looked at another?

TeleRead founder David Rothman has done just that in a recent post on Library City. He argues that Alexandria doesn’t deserve to be on the list because of cutbacks in their library system. He asks the reasonable question, “How can a city be #1 when there is great disparity between the upper and lower ends of the economic spectrum?”

Yet the Alexandria library’s budget for books and other materials is well below the national average despite the needs of the city’s many African-Americans, Hispanics and and low-income people. Around half of Alexandria’s students qualify for free school lunches, and as LibraryCity has noted before, they aren’t exactly hearing their parents read Jane Austen to them.

Simply put, we’re talking about two different realities—Amazon’s and the actual Alexandria’s. And we’re also talking about a gargantuan reading gap between millionaires in elegant Old Town neighborhoods and first-graders living in public housing and just learning English. Guess who enjoys more influence?

He poses some valid questions. TeleRead has long advocated for a healthy library system, and not just in the United States. Writer Paul St John Macintosh frequently calls out the UK library system.

What’s to be done? Rothman calls for a national digital library endowment. Certainly local governments could increase spending on libraries, but, under current economic conditions, that would mean taking from other places. It seems to me that as responsible reading citizens, we should include library funding as one of our decisions in elections, especially local elections. Do you know the position of your local officials on library funding?

1 Comment on Mixed messages on Alexandria being most well-read city

  1. Thanks, Juli. On top of everything else, the circulation statistics for the Alexandria public library are hardly stellar—around eight or so items per capita. Next-door Arlington dwarfs Alexandria in that regard. As for asking local pols how they feel about funding for books and other library matters, I totally agree with you. Alexandria is an interesting case. Overall library funding is okay by national standards, but the percentage devoted to books, etc. is much lower than average. It’s as if our politicians are trying to dumb us down. That presumably isn’t their intent. But it might as well be. Meantime, while the library system must justify every penny of content, City Manager Rashad Young is pulling down a cool $245K a year—more than Joe Biden! It’s also more than half the city’s budget for books and other collection items. Alexandria urgently needs to slow down salary increases for upper-level executives.



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