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Calling All Bibliophiles

Book collecting contest, with cash prizes, coming up


If you have an interesting collection of books on a particular subject, then the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center wants to hear from you. Entries for the annual Lawrence G. Blackmon Book Collecting Contest are due by Monday, March 28.

The contest, open to all full-time BU students, is sponsored by the Friends of the Libraries of BU. Initially known as the Student Book Collecting Contest, the event began in 1967 to encourage students to start their own library collections. The competition was renamed in 1984 when noted industrialist and book collector Lawrence G. Blackmon endowed it. One of the nation’s preeminent bibliophiles, Blackmon, who died last September, had first editions of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Jonathan Swift in his personal collection.

“We want students to pursue an interest and a passion through a collection,” says Sean Noel (CAS’94), HGARC associate director.

Collections are judged on how well they represent a specific field of interest (e.g., a collection of early 20th-century children’s books or a collection about a specific author or subject) as well as the condition of the books and the excellence of their design. Collections are limited to 50 titles and must be owned by the student. Books in any state can be included. Contestants are asked to submit a brief statement about their collection, describing how and why it was assembled, and a short essay on some aspect of the collection, as well as a formal bibliography. Semifinalists are then asked to bring several examples of their collection for inspection and to discuss their collection with the judges.

The judges are not looking just for large collections that were expensive to put together, Noel says. They want to hear about “the tradition of hunting the books down. How do you acquire them? What lengths do you go to acquire them?

“It’s very gratifying,” he says, “because it’s amazing the collections students have who don’t have a lot of money.”

Previous winners range from a collection of first edition Star Trek novels to a collection on the history of Mexico. The judges want to see what students have a passion for. Last year’s top prize winner, Nathan Hogan (SED’10), won for his collection on Greenland and the Arctic. He was featured in Research at Boston University 2010 for a research trip to Greenland last year as a Robert Pinsky Gobal Fellow.

“Winning the contest…caused me to see my collection as a collection for the first time. It offered a kind of unity and purpose to the stacks of books and pamphlets that were crowding my desk and shelves,” says Hogan. “I’m pretty proud of my idiosyncratic collection, which includes everything from a collection of Inuit pencil drawings to a pamphlet that explains how to build a ‘chili con carne alarm’ to protect one’s tent from polar bears. It was thrilling to be recognized for such a collection, and to be given the resources to continue to grow it.”

The contest has six prize categories, among them Emerging Collectors and Best Essay, with cash prizes ranging from $200 to $1,500. Winners will be announced at the annual Friends of the Libraries meeting in April.

“I want students to know about it and feel confident about entering,” says Noel.

The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center is accepting applications for the Lawrence G. Blackmon Book Collecting Contest through Monday, March 28. Contest rules can be found here.

Allison Thomasseau can be reached at althoma@bu.edu.

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