Are you Living in a Desert ?

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What can you do if you live in a Book Desert?

We all know what a desert is – a region so limited in natural resources that it is difficult for any but the most robust and adaptable plants or animals to flourish.

The idea of a desert has also been applied to supplies of fresh food as well. A “Food Desert” is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food for families is hard to find.

Well, here is a Book Desert map#, one that focuses not upon natural resources or food, but the geography of literacy resources. (Had the data been more encouraging we might have called this a Book Garden Map, but….). Denver is the largest city in our state of Colorado, so we trust it makes a useful example to which those from elsewhere can relate.

The data that we gave esri (the geography geniuses) to generate this map included a range of prediction variables, proxies for actual book counts: e.g. family income, culture, home language, etc. With this first version of the map we intend to initiate a conversation about the whole idea of the geography of books and reading, book deserts, and their impact on the lives of children who live in them. In the long-run we hope to gather local research of precise counts of books in homes. Naturally, with more in-depth research into homes and neighborhoods the proxy variables will be replaced.

So, let’s look at Denver. What do you see? Redder areas indicate fewer homes with 100 books. Greener areas indicate more homes with 100 books.

Simple enough. But where did 100 come from?

Well, that number comes from a research study (Evans, et al, 2010*) that gathered data from 27 countries around the world over a 20 year period. This comprehensive study by experienced sociologists interested in social mobility found that the very best predictor of school success across this array of rich and poor countries from every continent across two decades was number of books in the home. Their data indicate that for early school success (entry into high school) 100 books seem to be the optimum number of books for early school success. That number then was associated with the nature of in-depth and elaborate conversations, which they referred to as Family Scholarly Culture, that were likely to occur in those homes. Those books and the conversations they inspired taught children about the world beyond their direct experience and created rich language in the children, as well as open and curious minds, preparing them for academic success.

This kind of study provides us with insights into what parents can do to ensure that their children both enjoy and succeed in school during the ages where the foundations of all learning area laid.

Now, the map shows percentages of homes in each census tract that are likely to have at least 100 books.

Upon considering this map and finding that you inhabit a Book Desert, a place where children’s school success is not considered likely, what could you do?

  • What might a family do?
  • What might educators do?
  • What might the business community do?

Well, we could all … Unite for Literacy.

 #First introduced by Unite for Literacy at the Clinton Global Initiative – America conference, Denver, CO, June 24, 2014.
*Evans, M., Kelley, J., Sikorac, J., & Treimand,D. (2010). Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations.  Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. 28. 171–197.

2 Responses to “Are you Living in a Desert ?”

  1. Margaret-Mary June 25, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    You rock!