Are libraries still relevant in the computer age?
To Karla Trout, the answer is an emphatic yes.
People continue to embrace libraries, said Trout, who, as executive director of the Library System of Lancaster County, should know. Even digital natives like millennials are welcoming what the library has to offer, she said.
“In this era of fake news, people need somewhere they can turn to obtain factual data,” she said. “Surveys reveal that the librarian is the most trusted profession, second only to firemen, because we present information that is honest and balanced.”
The fact that Trout finds herself in a library career may seem unlikely. She grew up in western Pennsylvania in a house “with virtually no books,” she said.
“My family was not a group of readers,” she said. “I entered school with a high aptitude, but as a remedial reader.”
Trout’s trek into libraries was somewhat accidental. She had been downsized out of health care management just when the Palmyra Public Library was searching for a director. She won the job, discovered a love for reading and libraries, completed her master’s degree in library science and hasn’t looked back since.
“I didn’t find a real love for reading until I was in grad school, working on my degree in library science,” she said.
Trout served as executive director of the Palmyra Library for 14 years and the Adams County Library System for 2½ years before becoming executive director of the Lancaster County system in early 2019.
In her latest role, Trout and her staff support 17 library locations, including training and development for new employees, a countywide staff development program, and a coordinated summer learning program, the Summer Fitness Quest.
“We provide the computer support for the entire system, which includes over 200 public computers and related electronic materials.” Trout said. “We also have a centralized purchasing program for the system which catalogues and processes new books and materials. So, when the book reaches the individual library, it is ready to go on the shelf.”
Her office also coordinates the purchase of electronic resources such as tools like Brainfuse JobNow, which can help library customers learn how to develop their resumes and enhance interview skills.
“We’re very proud of our bookmobile, which provides service to the entire county, as well as our Be-READy-Rover,” Trout said.
Through a partnership with Luthercare for Kids and funding from a United Way Community Impact Grant, the rover circulates to more than 40 unlicensed, home-based childcare centers each month to help center operators move toward licensing, to teach techniques to assist children with learning, and to provide direct educational programs and book lending to the children served in the centers.
This year, Trout is serving on the Lancaster County Complete Count Committee to help ensure that residents throughout the county are accounted for in the 2020 census, especially those considered hard to count. This is the first time in history that the census can be completed online, and libraries will play a significant role in providing both a place and support for the 2020 census, she said.
“One of the challenges we face is there are 90 languages spoken in the county, while the 2020 census will only be translated into 13 languages,” Trout said. “I’m working with the committee through a grant to add translation software to library websites and public computers to assist residents in completing the census.”
She is also working with Church World Series and their “Language Without Borders” program to provide live and telephone translation services to residents who do not speak English and need assistance completing the census.
“The libraries we support in Lancaster County face a number of challenges, including insufficient funding,” Trout said. “But I’m convinced that these and all libraries play a vital role in connecting people to the resources and opportunities to enhance their lives and are excellent stewards of people’s trust.”
The Library System of Lancaster County is located at 1866 Colonial Village Lane, Suite 107, Lancaster. Services may have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, call 717-207-0500 or visit www.lancasterlibraries.org.