August 4, 2023

Four Questions with Michelle Reed

What experiences shaped your belief in digital rights and equitable access? 

I have a background in journalism and an MFA in creative writing, so I have always been interested in publishing and issues of information access. When I was a grad student in the Information Sciences program at the University of Tennessee, I gravitated toward classes about information ownership and economics and stumbled upon the work of Lawrence Lessig, which launched my era of IP disgruntlement. I mistrusted scarcity models for non-rivalrous goods and questioned the disconnect between what law and technology allowed. 

I have been fortunate to work in higher education for many years with access to the paywalled resources that many of us rely on and sometimes take for granted. It wasn’t until I experienced a medical situation while working outside of higher education–without the abundance of resources I was so used to– that I truly understood paywalls as harmful inequalities and began to recognize the information privilege that results from commodifying public research and scholarship. 

Can you tell us more about the work you’ll be doing with Library Futures?

As Research Manager for Library Futures, I oversee the organization’s research agenda and manage a small team of student fellows who are investigating issues that impact the future of libraries. The fellows’ investigations are wide ranging— from legal issues arising from AI innovation to privacy issues buried in the Kids Online Safety Act to digital redlining and resource equity. The projects will result in short explainers to help libraries navigate the changing digital landscape. Our fellows have done exciting work over the summer, and I look forward to sharing it with our community as we wrap up their projects.

One research project I’m working on now is connected to database challenges. As with the onslaught of book bans, we’ve seen an uptick in legislation and litigation targeted at censoring content in databases from vendors like EBSCO with disturbing potential to harm intellectual freedom and access to information across K-12, public, and academic libraries. It’s a grueling topic because so much of the rhetoric is rooted in misinformation and intolerance, but the libraries on the front lines responding to these challenges need support. I hope this research can offer clear policy guidance as library advocates across the country continue to navigate an increasingly volatile situation.

I’m also developing a website to support the work our eBook Study Group colleagues are leading. My work on our research projects is very left-brained, and I love getting into the details of study protocols and methodologies, but the website project is completely different. It’s emotive and creative and has given me a fun opportunity to think about how to capture the attention of people who aren’t well versed in the ebook licensing problems libraries are facing. Plus, it’s allowed me to reconnect with an artist I went to school with many, many years ago. I am absolutely thrilled to see where this collaboration takes us!

What is your biggest hope for our digital future? Your biggest fear?

My biggest hope is for the success of the brilliant minds working to build a safe, sustainable, shared infrastructure that allows everyone reliable and secure access to knowledge and information. My greatest fear is that we are too late to uphold the promise of digitization. That we’ve created a privacy irreverent monster too embedded in our systems to unpack, understand, or undo.

What fills your time when you’re not making the world safe for open access to knowledge?

I enjoy dirt and sky so I spend my free time gardening, watching my neighborhood birds quarrel over territory, and marveling at the slow change of trees and crops as they journey through the seasons. I propagate my “green pets” in water and find peace in their care. I fangirl over my monstera unfurling new growth and honor my own growth, even when it comes through difficult lessons. I delight in a beautiful sentence written in a surprising way. I treasure snail mail, and I write letters and cards to friends. Ask me about the local eagle, rivers, the latest additions to my indoor jungle, or our newest backyard fledglings.

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