Book Collecting Is a Competitive Sport

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If you can dream up a new interest, you can probably find a contest for it. Hobbyists of all kinds are often willing to compete against each other for the honor and prestige of a first-place trophy—and apparently, those who are enthusiastic about collecting old books are no exception, Smithsonian reports.

Since 2005, the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest has been recognizing the efforts of rare book collectors on college campuses. Most of the entries are actually from students who have already taken top prize at their school’s qualifying book collecting contest, though if your college doesn’t have such a contest (imagine!) you can still enter at the national level.

“A collection should reflect a clearly defined unifying theme or interest,” the contest rules state. “It may incorporate ephemera, maps, prints, autograph material as well as books, either hard cover or paperback, as long as they are germane to the collection's focus.”

Last year’s top prizes went to collections on the theme of South American theater, Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and the writings of Ashkenazi Jews. The first-place winner gets $2500 to support their collection, with an additional $1000 going to their school library. And for those passionate about citations, there's an extra prize just for the best annotated bibliography and essay.

But just what, exactly, makes a good book collection? These are the criteria the contestants are judged on:

Judges will award prizes based on the intrinsic significance, innovation and interest of book collections as presented in entrants' descriptive essays and bibliographies. As part of the judging process evaluations will be made of the entrants' understanding of their collections' subjects, their use and citation of previously-published bibliographical materials, and their knowledge and appreciation of the items in their collections both for content and as objects of craft. The judges will also consider how collections may help preserve material that could otherwise be lost or forgotten, and the potential of collections to expand and evolve. Age, rarity and uniqueness of items will be assessed independently of monetary value.

In addition, all the books have to be acquired and owned by the contestants. If you've got a finely preserved collection of rare and antique books tucked away in your dorm room, you can enter this year's contest until May 31.

[h/t Smithsonian]