In his 1988 inaugural address, newly elected Mayor Kurt Schmoke declared Baltimore “The City That Reads”—a more aspirational than descriptive slogan: in a city of over 700,000, an estimated 200,000 adults were considered functionally illiterate (1). City benches were painted with the slogan, along with the words “READING ZONE” emblazoned at the top. One Baltimorean remembered in 2001, “Oddly enough, the most common pastime on said benches remained the same as it had been for years: lying unconscious with a brown bag of cheap wine tucked under one's arm” (2). While the slogan has elicited chuckles, if not outright ridicule, over the years, others have noted that Baltimore is the home of the first free, integrated public library (the Enoch Pratt Free Library, established in 1882); it was also found in a 2004 study to be the 25th “most literate” city in the country (3).


Book cover for "The City That Reads" initiative (4).


So who’s reading in Baltimore? This website, created by Professor Jean Lee Cole’s Novels in America course, taught in Fall 2009, looks at reading—in particular, novel-reading—from a variety of angles. Follow the links at the left to find out about books being read in different Baltimore communities, including the Oak Crest Retirement Community, Gallagher Mansion, a residence for low-income seniors, the Teen Zone at the Light Street Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library, and at Loyola University in the past and present.

This website is the online version of an exhibit that was displayed at the Loyola/Notre Dame Library in January and February, 2010. Below are images from that exhibit; click on the thumbnails to see full size images.



1. Valentine, Paul. “Baltimore Targets its High Rate of Illiteracy; Schmoke Pushing Programs to Make ‘City That Reads’ More Than Just an Idle Slogan.” Washington Post 27 Aug. 1990.

2. Anark, “The City That Reads,” 15 Nov. 2001.

3. Miller, John W. “America’s Most Literate Cities.” University of Wisconsin-Whitewater,

4. "Textbook Wrapper--Supporting Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Education Initiatives for Baltimore City." Crafting Victories: Campaign Materials from the Collection of Larry Gibson.