Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Neighborhoods Parched for Books :: Book Deserts

Neighborhoods parched for books 
NY Daily News: 1.04.2017 by Naomi Moland Susan B. Neuman

On the last day of 2016, the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Bronx closed its doors for good, leaving New York City’s poorest borough without a general-interest bookstore. The borough’s 1.5 million residents — including 200,000 children in public schools — are left without a place to purchase books.

With this closure, the Bronx is joining an increasing number of communities that can be classified as “book deserts” — low-income neighborhoods with limited access to print resources. Our recently published study suggests that book deserts are becoming more common in cities across the U.S. The increasing concentration of poverty, coupled with technological advances that change how we buy and read books, is leading to neighborhoods where parents will have difficulty finding books to buy for their children.

Even if, in this age of Amazon, large brick-and-mortar bookstores are a thing of the past, city planners and retailers must find ways to ensure that poor neighborhoods are not cut off from crucial resources, including if not especially books.

And if you think bookstores are a relative indulgence for neighborhoods that lack good supermarkets, you miss the point. We recently conducted a study in Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to learn about the availability of books. In each city, we walked, biked and drove street by street in a low-income and a middle-income neighborhood, and counted how many books were available for sale.

The disparity was stunning. One middle-income neighborhood had one book available per every two children living in the neighborhood. In a nearby low-income neighborhood, 830 children would have to share a single book. Across the three cities, middle-income neighborhoods had 16 times more books available for sale than low-income neighborhoods.

Book deserts are particularly detrimental for young children. Babies and toddlers (who do not yet have access to books in schools) need to be surrounded by books to develop preliteracy skills. When very young children are exposed to books and reading, they develop vocabulary and stretch their brains. When they don’t, they enter pre-K or kindergarten behind their peers, opening racial and class disparities that only grow over time.

Libraries offer crucial access to books. But in many low-income neighborhoods, they are woefully underresourced. When cities faced tough economic times in recent years, library budgets were slashed, leading to reduced collections and shorter hours. Even when libraries are open, some low-income families struggle to find transport to the library. Others forgo checking out books for fear of fines.

Besides, many children understandably yearn to own their own books that they can reread frequently at home. When parents and children are surrounded by books at all times, they are more likely to develop reading habits.  READ MORE @

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