Beth Davis says: ‘Books can be your friend’

Beth Davis, school librarian at Berne-Knox-Westerlo for 26 years, was one of just eight librarians from across the country to serve on the 2022 William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award Committee.



BERNE — Beth Davis has fulfilled a lifetime dream.

She was one of just eight school librarians from across the United States to serve on the William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award Committee for 2022.

When she applied for the post, Davis thought she wouldn’t be chosen, reasoning, “Nobody’s going to pick … a librarian from a small library and I haven’t done anything so phenomenal.”

Many would beg to differ with her modest self description. She has been Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s secondary school librarian for 26 years where she fulfills a wide variety of roles and is now serving students who are children of students she originally served.

When she got the letter asking her to be on the committee, Davis screamed with joy.

“I did not realize the amount of work involved, but I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she says in this week’s Enterprise podcast.

The committee was chaired by Patty Gonzales Ramirez who lives in Texas. The other members besides Davis were Kit Ballenger, Rebecca Caufman, Michelle Cheng, Kara Hunter, Beth Kirchenberg, and liaison Ellen Wickham.

Davis and her counterparts each read scores of books written by first-time authors for readers age 12 to 18 and then met extensively, through their computers, to finally winnow the selection to five finalists and ultimately a first-place winner.

Davis herself read over 200 books up for the award. And 200 new books are being donated to the BKW Secondary School library because of her efforts.

The Morris Award, first given in 2009, is named for a beloved publisher who promoted literature for children and teens.

Before the pandemic, Davis said, committee members would meet at library association conferences. “You’d literally be locked in a room with your committee all day,” she said. “There were like guards to watch to make sure publishers don’t sneak in or listen.”

The 2022 committee met once or twice a month remotely and slowly whittled down the hundreds of books over the course of a year. The final sessions were lengthy and intense with many rounds of voting. 

Although the committee members didn’t always agree with each other, they always had respect for one another, said Davis.  Over the course of the year, they became friends, she said.

Davis has bonded with people over books her entire life. In fact, she thinks of books themselves as friends. “Books can be your friend. Books can keep you company,” she said. “Books can show you the rest of the world.”

Davis grew up in Rockland County in a family of readers. Her brother loved comics and graphic novels. Their mother took them to library story times and their father was a magazine reader.

Davis was always a voracious reader. She can tell you the names of her librarians from elementary school, middle school, and high school. She always loved talking about books and sharing books and was attracted to the ones with shiny stickers, which meant they had been singled out by a committee like hers for an award.

She considers serving on the Morris Award committee as “kind of a way to live on forever.”

In elementary school, Davis briefly wanted to be a Supreme Court justice — her father still teases her about it — but then settled on the idea of becoming a social studies teacher. She pursued a degree in social studies education at the University at Albany. But, when she became a student teacher, she didn’t like teaching the same thing to five classes a day.

“And that’s when it hit me,” she said. “I always loved libraries. I would still be able to work in a school, I still would be a teacher.”

So Davis went on to get a master’s degree in library science at UAlbany. She loves that every day as a school librarian is different, with new and varied challenges.

“I never know what to expect, who’s going to come in,” she said. Davis helps students looking for books and using computers. She loves collaborating with teachers and working on projects with them, even helping with the grading. She also works extensively with the school guidance counselor on career information for students.

“Before COVID,” Davis said, “we had a very active faculty staff book club.” The club involved teachers, aids, and assistants from both the elementary and secondary schools. Davis chose books that reflected “different parts of our world.” She hopes to start up the club again soon as people are clamoring for it.

And, she said, continuing her list of activities, “I have to find time to order things because we want to stay fresh, making sure the library looks nice and attractive.”

In the midst of those myriad duties, Davis carved out time to read over 200 new young adult books. Ultimately, the committee settled on “Firekeeper’s Daughter” as the winner. The thriller was written by Angeline Boulley, who is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians and whose father is a firekeeper.

Boulley tells the story of Daunis, a half-Ojibwe, half-white woman who planned on becoming a doctor; she never feels fully settled in either her reservation or the outside world. After she witnesses her best friend’s murder, she is pulled into an FBI investigation centered on a lethal new drug in her community.

Boulley said in a New York Times interview, “I have a mantra: I’m writing about trauma, but I’m not writing a tragedy. I didn’t want to lose sight of the funny and loving and wonderful things about my community even though I was talking about meth and other unpleasant truths.”

Describing the central character, Daunis, Davis says, “One of her parents is a Native American, and the other parent is Caucasian. She’s kind of trying to live both lives and is not sure where she fits in this world.”

Davis recalls that she was not able to put down the book when she first read it.

Boulley, she said, took a decade to write the book. “She rewrote it every year for 10 years till she got it to where she wanted it and then was submitting it and there was a bidding war. I think it was 12 publishers went for it.”

Davis said that one of the best parts of serving on the committee was being on the Zoom call when the committee told Boulley that she had won the Morris Award.

“She’s just like covering her mouth and just in shock,” Davis recalled. “She then spent like 15 minutes with her computer, wandering the house because it was like she didn’t even know what to do with herself.”

Her mother and father were there and the committee members got to meet her father. Boulley’s publishers were on the call, too. “So it’s like a big old party,” said Davis.

About a week ago, Davis said, there was a more formal celebration when, during the association’s virtual conference, all of the finalists and the winner, Boulley, got to speak.

“One of the highlights of that was she actually thanked each member of the committee by name,” said Davis.

Davis urges people to read “Firekeeper’s Daughter” and says the audio book is also excellent.

Her parting advice is to urge everyone to read — anything. “It doesn’t matter what you read,” Davis says. “If you love magazines, read them. If you like reading manuals for how things work, that’s reading.”

“Graphic novels are real literature and real reading,” she says.

When students tell her they hate reading, Davis tells them, “You haven’t found the right genre or the right author yet. So just keep searching.”


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