Background: Literacy-rich environments (LREs) reflect characteristics such as abundance of materials, daily literacy routine, and layout conducive for reading and writing. Shifting from previous conceptualizations, LREs are not confined to schools but are ubiquitous in formal and informal educational settings; they include libraries, museums, bookstores, and community-based organizations. An ecological approach is important for understanding how literacy is embedded in social life and everyday practice, particularly in relation to literacy learning and development. It recognizes the multitude of practices in various communities and accounts for institutional and social structures that shape everyday practice.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of the study is to examine LREs as part of a broader ecology of literacy and to identify the factors that may influence proximity and accessibility to LREs. An ecological approach paired with geographic information systems (GIS) can yield various types of data visualization about spatial context. St. Louis metropolitan area serves as a viable example in the study.
Research Design: The authors employed a mixed methods approach and collected data from several sources. Purposeful sampling was used to identify a number of educational and cultural institutions. GIS tools were central to the creation of maps. Using spatial analysis and data visualization, the authors paid attention to the emerging relationships between spatial patterns and represented demographics, evident on the maps as distance and clustering.
Findings/Results: Findings indicate that an uneven geography of opportunity among underserved student populations is further compounded by a fragmented ecology of literacy. The spatial arrangements of LREs suggest an uneven distribution of resources, particularly educational and cultural institutions that shape everyday life. Findings suggest that factors such as race, median household income, and transportation routes influence proximity and accessibility to LREs.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This investigation of LREs extends current conversations about literacy and various ecologies of literacy. GIS tools provided a means to examine the geospatial relationships between LREs, schools, and neighborhoods in a particular metropolitan area. Focusing on St. Louis was key not only because of the researchers’ growing knowledge of the place but also because there are good reasons to believe that St. Louis, with its uneven and fragmented geography, may exemplify similar phenomena taking place in other metropolitan areas.