Nevada’s new library director is relatively new to the profession, but Erin Coughlin has a wealth of knowledge from her teaching career.
“I worked as a high school English teacher in the Omaha area for 14 years, and during that time I got my Master of Arts in English from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Then I taught college composition and American Lit as an adjunct instructor at Iowa Western Community College and at Treynor High School,” said Coughlin. She and her husband, Patrick, moved to Ankeny in 2019 after 14 years of living in Omaha, Neb.
Coughlin said she loved teaching, but having the time and energy for it got the best of her. “Grading papers at night and giving each student my all had my work/home-life balance completely out of whack,” she said. After a short, but fun job as a receptionist at Wags Pet Resort in Ankeny, she decided to head back to school and pursue the path of being a librarian.
While doing so, she had the privilege of working for two months at the historic Kendall Young Library in Webster City. “I learned so much about librarianship and was trained so well (in Webster City),” she said. “Then in October of 2020, I was hired as director of the Cambridge Memorial Library in Cambridge, Iowa.” She’s loved working in the small Story County library, where she’s had the opportunity to get to know all the patrons and help them in ways she never dreamed possible.
“I’ve loved seeing kids get excited about books and reading, and I love providing resources and programs to the community. I’m going to miss it (in Cambridge) … but I’m ready to spread my wings more,” she said.
As she starts as the Nevada Library Director on Sept. 1, Coughlin will still be working toward her master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences through the University of Iowa. She plans to graduate in May of 2022.
“I’m so excited to take the things I’ve learned and I’m currently learning in my grad program and put them into practice.” Coughlin believes taking classes while also working has helped her learn more effectively. “I’ve been able to expand my knowledge base by simply using my experiences.”
Coughlin grew up in LeMars, where she said the library was similar in size to the Nevada Public Library. “That library (in LeMars) had such an enormous impact on my life. When I left teaching and was deciding what to do next, I thought back to how happy I always was when I visited that library, and I knew that a career in library would fulfill me the same as teaching had.”
Coughlin loves that Nevada’s library is large enough to have a variety of resources and programs and that it can fulfill many of the community’s needs. “But it’s small enough that I’ll be able to get to know the patrons much like I’ve been able to in Cambridge. Plus, [the Nevada Public Library] is just a beautiful library. Who wouldn’t want to work there every day!?”
Her biggest goal coming into the Nevada Library position is “to learn as much as I can about the staff, the library and the patrons’ needs as quickly as I can. I always like to take what is good about something and help make it even better,” she said. She had the same goal with her students. “They had so many talents and skills, and I could help them refine and hone them.”
Coughlin’s goal in Nevada is to tap into everything that makes a public library special. “I think many times we think of libraries as a depository for books. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE books! But libraries are so much more than books. They are meeting spaces, and classes, and educational resources, and technology hubs, and liaisons between community members and a variety of groups and resources. I never knew how much libraries provided to communities until I got into the profession. I look forward to showcasing all of this to the Nevada community.”
Getting to know Erin Coughlin a little better with a few Q&As:
Who are the members of your family? I’ve been married to Patrick for 13 years, and we have three “fur babies.” We are huge dog lovers and have worked in a rescue group in Omaha for several years. We have our pups: Blanche Devereaux, 7; Rory Gilmore, 6; and Fuji, 2-3. I also have four nieces and three nephews I love spending time with.
Besides reading, what interests/hobbies do you enjoy in your free time? I enjoy biking, watching baseball, listening to podcasts, watching true crime documentaries, and drinking craft beer.
What are your favorite genres of books? Honestly everything! About five years ago I made it a goal to read a more diverse style of books. But I tend to naturally read a lot of young adult, mystery/thriller, and contemporary fiction. I studied American Literature and Harlem Renaissance literature as well.
Who is your favorite author? Another tough one! I love Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, and for contemporary authors, I love Angie Jackson.
What is a great book you’ve read recently? I recently read “Somebody’s Daughter” by Ashley Ford. It was a memoir, and I loved how the author examined all the different aspects of herself and how her mother and father helped create that. I also loved “Dial A for Aunties,” a cozy mystery by Jesse Q. Sutanto. It was just a funny story, and it was so engaging how the aunties in the family created disaster for the protagonist, despite their best intentions.
Do you have a favorite place to read books? Yes! In my house, we had a small formal dining room on the main floor that I converted to my library. It’s got huge windows that look out over my backyard, and I have a chair of my grandma’s that is definitely a ‘70s- or ‘80s-era relic. I absolutely love the room and the chair and view!
Are you more of an old-fashioned reader (real books) or a new tech reader (Kindle)? Yes. Ha! I always have three to four books going at a time. One physical book, one on my kindle, and one audiobook for sure. I like having options for convenience’s sake!
Do you remember what book or series of books got you hooked on reading as a youth? Several – I loved The Boxcar Children series and that really hooked me as a first grader learning to read. I also remember reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan family series including “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” That impacted a lot of what I wound up loving to read and study during my undergrad and first master’s degree. Finally, as a young adult, I loved mysteries, so I was hooked on the Fear Street series by RL Stine and then moved to Mary Higgins Clark’s novels in high school.
What do you want people to know about your personality as you come into this role and as they get to know you? I’m 100 percent a lifelong learner. There’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot I’m willing to learn. I also believe in kindness above all else. Also, that I love the Chicago Cubs and the Cyclones! I’m very excited to join the awesome group of librarians already in place at the Nevada Public Library!
–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada