Karen Laura-Lee Wilson was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1942. Her family moved to Australia when she was five. She was educated in Brisbane and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Queensland University in 1967, the same year she and George Wilson married. Prior to their marriage Karen worked at Stones Corner Library and at the State Library of Queensland. In 1969 Karen became a registered librarian and worked in several Brisbane municipal libraries and the Queensland University Library.