WU libraries sponsor annual book-collecting contest

| Contributing Reporter

The Washington University Libraries have begun accepting applications for their 24th annual Neureuther Student Book Collection Essay Competition, with a $1,000 first prize and a $500 second prize.

Any full-time current Washington University student is eligible to enter the competition. The deadline is Wednesday, March 31, 2010. The event is composed of two contests: one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students.

Entrants must complete an entry form, a two- to four-page essay about their collection, a bibliography listing the books in their collection, and a sampling of three to five books from their collection, and deliver them to the Department of Special Collections on the main level of Olin Library by 5 p.m. on March 31.

The winners of the competition will be notified at the end of April and invited to attend a lunch with the judges and Shirley Baker, dean of University Libraries. Portions of the winning collections will be displayed in Olin Library for a brief period and the winning essays will be posted on the Library’s Web site.

The panel of judges varies each year and consists of volunteers drawn from faculty members of the University, graduate level winners from the previous years or other figures from the St. Louis community.

According to library staff, the essays will be judged based on the theme and scope of the collection, approach to collecting, personal value to the collector and quality of the writing; rarity, monetary value and size of the collection will not be taken into consideration.

“We want to see book collections that are original and intelligent,” said Aaron Welborn, managing editor of Washington University Libraries. “We are concerned about how valuable and meaningful is the collection to the person. The essay should show that the person has real knowledge of the subjects and appreciates the items of the collection.”

The subject and theme the book collectors have to choose from is not restricted. Former winners have shown off collections on military history, science fiction, 19th-century French opera, and Catalan drama.

Welborn noted that a significant difference exists between those who collect books and those who read casually.

“Book collecting is choosing a topic or a theme and thoughtfully gathering books on that subject,” he said. “It is quite different from having an overflowing bookshelf. We are looking for people who can demonstrate thoughtful messages from the books they have collected over time with a purpose.”

Welborn also mentioned that a book collection on a very specific topic, reflecting academic or personal interest, is usually more appealing and has a greater chance of winning.

For example, last year’s winner Christina Pulles wrote on her collection of “Harry Potter” books in many different languages. The essay on the collection not only expressed her delight in reading the literature, but also a strong interest in learning foreign languages.

Among other reasons, Welborn noted that the competition is designed to send a message about the continued importance of books and reading in everyone’s lives.

“The reason we sponsor the contest every year is that books still matter,” he said. “When all of us are very excited about the future of reading, being able to read everything on an iPhone, there is still something wonderful about reading and collecting books. The purpose of the contest is to encourage students to stay interested in reading and collecting books.”