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Reuters/Amr Abdallah
Lost in the stacks.
URBANE

The best cities in the world for book lovers

By Thu-Huong Ha

The streets of Edinburgh and Hong Kong are overflowing with books. Istanbul and Singapore, less so.

Every year the World Cities Culture Forum collects information on how people consume culture around the world. The organization looks at factors like how many video game arcades a city has, or how much a city forks over for movie tickets each year. Led by the London mayor’s office and organized by UK consulting company Bop, the forum asks its partner cities to self-report on cultural institutions and consumption, including where people can get books.

Over the past two years, 18 cities have reported how many bookstores they have, and 20 have reported on their public libraries.

Hong Kong leads the pack with 21 bookshops per 100,000 people, though last time Buenos Aires sent in its count, in 2013, it was the leader, with 25. New York does OK, with around 840 bookstores for 8.4 million people, but London, whose population is only slightly bigger than New York, counts only 360 stores.

rankcitybookstores per 100,000 peopledate
1Hong Kong212014
2Taipei17.62014
3Madrid162014
4Shanghai162014
5Toronto13.92015
6New York102015
7Sydney9.42015
8Paris92015
9Seoul92015
10Austin8.22015
11Melbourne82015
12Shenzhen6.62014
13Amsterdam62014
14Moscow52014
15London42015
16Stockholm3.22014
17Singapore32014
18Istanbul12015

When it comes to libraries per capita, Edinburgh leads by quite a bit: The city reported 60 libraries for every 100,000 people. Even going back more than two years, to include cities with older data, Edinburg blew everywhere else out of the water. It has around 300 libraries total, in a city of half a million. By comparison, Hong Kong  has around 300 libraries for 7 million people.

Of the cities that reported their library counts, Dubai and Istanbul lagged.

rankcitylibraries per 100,000 peopledate
1Edinburgh60.52015
2Warsaw11.42014
3Brussels102015
4Paris9.22014
5Seoul62014
6Shenzhen5.92014
7Vienna5.92014
8Hong Kong4.22015
9London4.22014
10Moscow4.22014
11Toronto3.92015
12Melbourne3.42015
13Amsterdam3.32014
14Sydney3.32015
15New York2.72015
16Taipei1.82014
17Rome0.82014
18Singapore0.52014
19Istanbul0.42014
20Dubai0.32015

Since cities self-report their data, there’s no way to enforce uniform definitions for what constitutes a bookstore. Drug stores in the US sell books, for example, as do stationery stores elsewhere, and data from New York comes from the Yellow Pages. Says Yvonne Lo, a coordinator at the forum, ”We very much rely on the city to update the data and provide us the data.”