The Path We Take
If you would have asked Karen Locher after she graduated high school what she thought she would be doing in the year 2023, chances are she would not have said leading a library.
Even though 17-year-old Karen planned to become a teacher, one thing that never changed was her drive to do and be the best she can be.
“This wasn’t the plan I envisioned for myself,” she said. “It wasn’t the path I chose – it was the path I took. And that’s OK, because I ended up where I needed to be.”
Locher, the senior director of the UHV Library, is one of the earlier graduates of the University of Houston Victoria Center, now the University of Houston-Victoria. She received her degree in history education in 1976, just three years after the center opened. She’s also worked at the UHV Library for 40 years, not counting her years as the first UHV student worker to work at the library.
A Victoria native, Locher graduated from Stroman High School and attended Victoria College for a year and had plans to attend a big university in a big city. And, for a year, she did. Like many people, though, because of life and circumstances, she returned to her hometown.
But not too long after she returned, there was a change in Victoria. After years of the community advocating for an institution of higher learning for upper division courses, there finally opened an education center for just that.
Well, in a sense. The University of Houston Victoria Center was a university in name, but physically a room or two on the Victoria College campus. The small university center was not yet the bustling four-year institution we know today, since freshmen and sophomores would not be admitted into the university for a few decades.
But once UHVC opened, the center made a significant difference in the lives of those who wanted to complete their higher education.
Most of Locher’s classmates were just like her – women who had started their degrees and had not yet finished because of marriage, family obligations and other life circumstances. Now, there was an opportunity to complete a degree without having to travel or move hours away.
“It was choosing to get a degree,” Locher said. “If that’s important to you, you’ll do it. I’m a first-generation college student, and it was important to me to finish my degree.”
She also applied for a student worker position for UHV at the library on campus, which shared a space with the Victoria College Library, making her the first library student worker for UHV. Once she graduated, she applied for a job at the Victoria Public Library, not realizing that she was taking the first steps of her career as a librarian.
During her time at the local library, she worked in the local history and genealogy room. After working there for three years, the library director called her into his office one day and asked Locher if she ever considered becoming a librarian. To become a librarian, though, required a master’s degree in library sciences, and there were only three universities in the state that had accredited library schools.
So Locher’s husband quit his job and they moved to Austin, where Locher first started her higher education. Not too long after she received her master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980, her husband was recruited for the new parks superintendent position by the City of Victoria, and the two returned to Victoria in 1983. Locher applied for a position at the UHV/VC Library as a government documents librarian and soon started her tenure at UHV. During that time, she also did reference work and taught instructional classes so that students could learn how to use the library to its full potential.
A few years later, the library director at the time approached Locher because he heard she had a home computer. So, she became in charge of the library’s computers, and it has since been her main role within the library. After the internet became available, the library and how it offered its services changed dramatically.
“Nothing more significant, other than the printing press, has ever happened to libraries than computers,” Locher said. “Computers changed everything, and libraries changed more than most people know.”
Throughout her time at UHV, Locher witnessed the university grow out of the few classrooms on the VC campus to multiple buildings, including University Commons, home of the UHV Library. The new library opened in 2019 along with a storage site at UHV Northwest, located at 1604 E. Airline Road.
Locher also grew as a librarian. She helped lead the library into a new digital age and has helped staff, faculty, community members and students from UHV and VC with library services for 40 years. In 2020, she was promoted to senior director of the library.
“In the end, I found libraries, and that’s where I needed to be. You grow where you need to be, and I needed to be a librarian,” she said. “I didn’t choose UHV – UHV happened to me, and for that, I'm grateful.”
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 50 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.