Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin was honored yesterday with The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the National Book Award ceremony in New York.
Many of the news stories about Le Guin’s speech focus on her criticism of publishing companies’ increasing corporatism and the profit-driven model of the industry -- particularly Amazon and its conflict with the publisher Hachette earlier this year.
Le Guin also called out a critical issue for public libraries. In her remarks, she highlighted the challenges libraries face in getting access to e-books, citing her own publisher’s practice of charging libraries six times the amount it charges individuals for many e-book titles.
Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke shares this concern and has been assertive about advocating for greater public access to e-books. "The ecosystem of reading is changing before our eyes," she said today, in response to Le Guin’s speech. "The sands are shifting rapidly beneath authors and artists, and not in their favor, as Ms. Le Guin so astutely noted. Public libraries are also challenged to serve patrons as they have come to expect under some of the current models imposed by publishers and content distributors. So long as pricing and access to e-books for public libraries remain unbalanced, readers everywhere are the ones who will suffer."
From my own viewpoint as a librarian, I’d say the most stirring aspect of Le Guin’s acceptance speech was the great faith she placed in writers as artists, as creative communicators with a unique ability to imagine solutions and make space for humanity:
"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."
Would you like to see more? Watch Ursula K. Le Guin’s entire acceptance speech, or, take a peek at this year’s National Book Award winners, below.