May 2021 | Josh Cowles

We are proud to highlight our members who commit their time and resources to helping Wisconsin libraries and librarians thrive through their work with the Wisconsin Library Association. Each month, we will be sharing their stories and hope you will be inspired to learn more about our programs or get involved! 

Fill out the Lead with WLA form and be connected with other change agents, leaders, and committees that can use what you have to offer.

Josh Cowles | May 2021

For which library, institution, or organization are you currently employed? If you are retired, what was your former organization?
Fond du Lac Public Library

How many year(s) have you been a member of Wisconsin Library Association?

What has been your favorite or most impactful function or event of WLA?
Chairing a WLA conference committee had the biggest impact on me and opened a lot of doors to connect with and learn from other members. Some of my favorite events have been the "Librarians Rock" live band karaoke series.

How has being a member of WLA impacted you or your career?
As is true for many of us, I am the only person in my library who does what I do. So from the beginning WLA has been an important channel to meet and learn from other people doing library IT (and now makerspace) work across the state.

WLA has also helped broaden my horizons in a number of ways. With an academic background in Political Science, it was suggested that I join the Library Development & Legislation committee where I served and learned for several years. That experience was a stepping stone to a gubernatorial appointment to the Council on Library and Network Development (or COLAND, a state board that advises the Superintendent on library & information matters). I learned so much about state library history, law, systems and governance.

WLA conferences have been an important part of my professional development, not only as an attendee but as a presenter and committee chair. I feel like, regardless of the program schedule, I always come away with valuable insights, a renewed sense of purpose and new friends and acquaintances across the state.

Do you have a library role model (in Wisconsin or elsewhere) that has provided you with inspiration or guidance? Please share a little bit about it.
Far too many. Honestly, most of the librarians I've had a chance to get to know inspire me in some way. I'll get into a few specifics:

Todd Mountjoy was my college librarian at UW-Fond du Lac. His insatiable intellectual curiosity, wicked sense of humor, kindness and open heart & door made me think that maybe I should consider library work.

Ken Hall was my first library boss and took the time to really guide me into the profession after spending a couple years working under for him in a temporary grant-funded position working on economic recovery. He made a lot of introductions locally and statewide and took the time to very candidly answer my many questions about libraryland. I doubt I would be here if Ken had not opened these early doors for me.

Jon Mark Bolthouse is my current director and, as a former library technologist himself, has always been supportive and understanding of the IT needs and opportunities a library has. He sees his primary role as a supervisor as removing obstacles and granting autonomy so that we can do our best work. He's also responsible for the opportunities I've had to be part of a major construction and service design project (launching the Idea Studio makerspace).

Finally, I have to mention the crew responsible for (the unfortunately short-lived) ILEAD USA-WI, a team project-based leadership program which refreshed my perspective on my own career as well as my sense of what leaders in the library community should be. Stef Morrill, Tasha Saecker, Denise Anton Wright, Ryan Claringbole, Jean Anderson, Jeff Dawson, Krista Ross, John DeBacher and many others seemed to give 100% of themselves at the in-person sessions and showed by example how to be leaders who are also vulnerable, empathetic, balanced humans.

Do you have any advice for new WLA members?
If you are an introvert like I am, try to forge some 1:1 connections with people who can help give you some introductions. It's not unusual or much of an imposition as a newcomer to simply contact people who do things you are interested in and see if they would be willing to talk.

Volunteering for committees or projects is also a great way to learn and meet new people. You often don't need any experience to be a part of a committee, just a willingness to serve and learn from the more experienced members.

Take advantage of the whole conference when you go. Do the fun things at night. Get to know your colleagues better. Make the leap and present. Explore the city a bit with someone you would like to get to know better.