Born in Australia, but educated in Canada, Bess had trained as a secretary and worked as a librarian at Toronto University. While in Canada she developed an interest in the Boys and Girls' House of the Toronto Public Library. On her return to Australia Bess Thomas was the co-founder of the Mosman Children's Library in 1934 along with her cousin, Edith Allworth.
Bess also set up a voluntary organisation known as the Friends of the Mosman Children's Library, the first of its kind in NSW, which operated throughout the 1950's.
Bess was the first woman in NSW to be appointed as a municipal librarian in 1945. Bess introduced innovative outreach activities such as story hours, book clubs and chess groups to the library.
Bess hosted one of the first training courses for children's librarians in 1954. 5 days of lectures, workshops and bookbuying for 30 librarians from 4 states. Bess was also a member of the preliminary committee to establish the Children's Book of the Year award which was followed by the establishment of the Children's Book Council of Australia.
Bess retired in March 1962, and J.W. Metcalfe's farewell address acknowledged Australia's debt to her work.
After her death in 1968 the LAA Children's Libraries Section determined to honour her memory with an award for 'an outstanding contribution to the profession by the writings or work of a practising children's librarian'.
When the Orana journal - ALIA's journal of school and children's librarianship ceased publication in 2005 the ALIA board and the Orana committee attributed the residual funds towards this award and the Marjorie Cotton Award.
The Children's and Youth Services Groups of today, strive to continue the work that Bess pioneered, we provide continuing professional development opportunities for our members and colleagues and champion the provision of library services for children, we encourage our colleagues to network and celebrate their achievements.