Kate McDowell is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her teaching and research analyze historical and innovative ways to engage young people with reading, learning, and exploring our information world. She has published articles in Library Quarterly, Library Trends, Children & Libraries, and Book History, and has several book chapters, including an examination of evolution in children's science books published in Culture of Print in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine. McDowell's research on the history of children's reading was funded by the University of Illinois Campus Research Board and awarded the Arnold O. Beckman Research Award. Her article "Surveying the Field: The Research Model of Women in Librarianship, 1882-1898" won the biennial 2010 Donald G. Davis award of the American Library Association's Library History Round Table.

McDowell's recent work engages youth and community informatics. In Fall 2013 she was awarded a grant as co-PI from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) titled Closing the App Gap, which will develop a model for combating summer reading losses by bringing tablet-based reading experiences to underserved populations during summer reading programs. She led a youth services workshop at the 2013 iSchools conference and served as co-chair of the ALISE Youth Services special interest group in 2012.

McDowell teaches youth services librarianship, fantasy literature and media for youth, and storytelling (traditional and digital). Her latest course, on youth services community engagement, adapts community informatics concepts to build bridges between public libraries and other youth-focused community organizations. McDowell's students have placed her on the List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by Their Students for every semester she has taught.