This Competition Showcases Students’ Unique Book Collections

For every young person that’s ever been called a “book-hoarder”, or who has been suggestively given an e-reader for Christmas, or has found some of their favorite books in a box outside the front door, there may be a saving grace for you. Have you ever considered competitive book collecting? You read that right: competitive book collecting exists.

Since 2005, the Nation Collegiate Book Collecting Contest has been giving out cash prizes in recognition of “outstanding book collecting efforts by college and university students”. The competition, it turns out, is about more than amassing the most books, or even the most rare and expensive ones. Rather, the judging panel rewards participants on the themes of their collection, their knowledge and excitement over the subject, and how the ideas inside these books make deeper connections to the world today. Prizewinning collections have covered everything from the history of American legal printing to Pablo Neruda to musical scores of suppressed Soviet composers.

You might be thinking, “This is some nostalgia-driven niche craze cooked up by millennials, right?” You’d be surprised at how long such an unusual tradition has endured. Swarthmore College began hosting the A. Edward Newton Book Collection Competition, the first and oldest contest of its kind in the U.S., in the 1920s. Newton was a rare book collector himself, acquiring a library of more than 10,000 first-edition books and literally writing the book on the Amenities of Book Collecting and Kindred Affections. Competitions have sprouted up at more than three dozen other campuses throughout the country, and has since come to represent the preservation books in a time of dwindling readership.

The best part about discovering this new world of book-loving now is that there’s still time to enter. Entries for this year’s competition are being accepted until May 31st. Winners receive $2,500 dollars and an extra $1,000 to encourage starting a book collecting competition in their own school. If you have an obscure curiosity and plenty of bookshelves to prove it, we’ll be cheering for you! (but we can keep it down if you’re in a library right now).

Featured image courtesy of the University of Chicago Libraries.