Karen Trout says her position is “the dream library job.” Trout oversees selection of adult fiction for the library and is the coordinator of the annual Reading Together program, which encourages community members to all read the same book and participate in programs organized around the themes of the book.
This is the 15th year of the program, and Trout says this year’s will be quite different from previous programs. The book is Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who will visit Kalamazoo in March. Trout says the organizers expect this year’s program to attract attention from readers of all ages, races and genders.
“I keep joking we’re in the big leagues now,” says Trout, a Kalamazoo native and mother of college-age triplets. “We’re excited because Kareem is trying to be more visible with libraries and we’ve gotten a little extra support from the Gilmore Foundation and Friends of the Library to help make it happen.”
How did you get where you are today?
When I was little, I worked in the school library and got to stamp the books at checkout, and I loved doing that. Flash forward 30 years and I was volunteering in a school library, and being in that environment made it all come flooding back. I thought, “I really I love this.”
I went back to school to get a master’s in library science, enrolling in an online program through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was the perfect solution. I “attended” class online at the same time the class was going on — we didn’t have video streaming then — and went to campus once a semester for a full-day session.
I did my practicums at the Kalamazoo Public Library and got my first permanent job here in Teen Services. After five years, I switched to Adult Services when they combined the Reading Together position and a position for adult fiction to create one job. I’ve been doing it now for six years.
How does the Reading Together selection get made?
A selection committee made up of library staff and trustees starts in late spring and early summer reading books from suggestions I collect throughout the year. We look at themes and content and want to choose something that has relevant themes to the community.
We wanted to have this year’s book bring the community together to talk about some difficult, sensitive issues. Kareem’s book addresses so many different topics — race, religion, gender, politics, Generation Z. Each chapter covers a different topic. With everything going on in our country right now, we can’t not talk about those things; we can’t not be a catalyst to bring the community together. Having the common experience of reading the same book is the perfect springboard for those kinds of conversations.
What do you like most about what you do?
I like reaching out into the community to plan the programs. I like the project management of getting the author here and the details to make that happen, but I love to tap into the people that I know in the community to serve on our steering committee that helps us with topics and people for workshops.
I am also a huge fan of Kalamazoo and like that I have the opportunity to give back to Kalamazoo through representing the library to the rest of the community.
Have you had a favorite Reading Together program?
I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve had great experiences with authors — I usually meet them at the airport and take them around town. I loved Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North. He was just so overwhelmed by how great Kalamazoo is. I also loved The Living Great Lakes program with Jerry Dennis, who is from Traverse City. I like to think we give all authors warm and sincere welcomes. It’s fun to show off my hometown.
What do you do for fun?
Well, I just finished a Senior Readers’ Theatre production at the Civic, singing in The Pirates of Penzance. I am sort of an occasional performer at the Civic.
Yes, I was a vocal music major at St. Olaf College, but when I saw all the discipline the other music majors had, I knew I was in trouble. I was already taking classes in music, theater and dance, so I got a degree in fine arts.
What’s your dream role?
Dulcinea in Man of La Mancha. You know, she’s a whore, but he thinks she’s this beautiful maiden. Although I think, at this point in my life, I am probably way beyond being able to play that role. (She laughs.)