Profile June 29, 2024

Jenny Emery Davidson

A Library Pioneer

In 1955, 17 forward-thinking women in Sun Valley created the unique idea of donating one dollar each to start a library fundraising effort. Determined that the library would be independent and not government-funded, the women also established a thrift store, the Gold Mine, to generate an ongoing revenue stream for the new library’s future.

Today, the same sort of ingenuity that launched the library nearly 70 years ago is being continued by another forward-thinking woman, Community Library of Ketchum Executive Director Jenny Emery Davidson. Along with staff, volunteers, board members and the community, she has led an effort to “re-imagine” the library’s space, offerings, and role in the community, transforming it into a hub of activity with more than 100,000 visitors annually.

Raised in Twin Falls, where she graduated high school, Davidson earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Carleton College in Minnesota and her doctorate in American Studies from the University of Utah. Along the way, she did a journalism internship and summer work on a wildland firefighter crew with the BLM. “I think it (firefighting) was just as important as my liberal arts education. I found myself in situations that were outside of my comfort zone, and I learned how to do things like use a Pulaski and change a tire,” she laughs.

After school, she returned to Idaho and worked as an English teacher at the College of Southern Idaho, then served as the CSI Hailey Off-Campus Center administrator. She recalls that when she was finishing her college dissertation on Contemporary Western Literature, the Ketchum Community Library had been a great resource for her as a patron. So, when the executive director position came open, she threw her hat into the ring. That was 10 years ago.

Recently retired library member Donna Delahorne describes Davidson as a “valley treasure.”

“I’ve never worked with anyone who’s as good a leader as Jenny, and I’m not alone,” Donna says. “Jenny brings out the best in people. She’s a great listener and a great motivator. She’s very hands-on, but everyone around her has a voice and can contribute.”

Donna noted that Davidson has been a driving force behind creating or expanding many innovative programs that make the library Ketchum’s gathering space.

Among these offerings are a new youth section, a Writers in Residence program at the Ernest and Mary Hemingway house, craft times for kids, expanded bilingual programs, internship opportunities for high school students, the Bloom Bookmobile, which partners with the Hunger Coalition to bring books and free lunches to Blaine County neighborhoods, exhibits, and numerous partnerships with other libraries, community organizations, and events that encourage conversation and foster creativity.

“Jenny doesn’t think of the library as just a place where books are,” Donna says. “She thinks of it in broad terms, where people can meet, do crafts, access speakers and socialize with others. It acts more as a community living room.”

Davidson, her staff and the board of trustees directed the redesign. She also spearheaded the “re-imagining” of the former Ketchum Heritage and Ski Museum, rebuilding it as the new Wood River Museum of History and Culture, which now resides in a newly remodeled building near the library with over 4,000 visitors per month.

Davidson has also been a voice for libraries across the state facing legislative censorship.

“We believe in the library’s mission, which is a person’s right to read freely, to read broadly, to exercise intellectual independence, so we certainly feel deeply unsettled and concerned about any legislation that would hamper an environment that is supportive of intellectual freedom,” Davidson says.

That’s one reason Davidson and her team came up with “A Little Book of BIG Stories,” a book of brief testimonies on the importance of libraries written by library patrons throughout Idaho. Copies were sent to all Idaho legislators and officials, including the governor.

Davidson and her husband, Mark, live in Hailey. When she isn’t working, she reads obsessively and immersing herself in the beauty of Idaho’s landscape through the limitless outdoor activities with Mark and their German shorthair pointer, Roy.

“I also like trying new things, too, whether it’s cooking something new or trying watercolors, something I’m not good at and have no expertise in,” she says.

She expresses a deep love for the West, and Idaho in particular.

“I love the spaciousness of the state and the variety of the landscape. I love everything from the smell of the sagebrush to the clarity of the water from Silver Creek to Henry’s Fork to the ruggedness of the mountains.”

Back to the library, Davidson says, “The Community Library is so deeply rooted in this place, shaped by the women devoted to this place, shaped by the people who use the library every day. I think the library will always be fertile terrain for imaginative work.”

This article appears in the Summer 2024 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.