Book Collecting Can Pay Off: Collegiate Students’ Personal Libraries Could Net National Scholarships

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s (ABAA) annual National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards cash prizes to students who have assembled a book collection centered on a clear theme. The rarity, value and erudition of individual items are secondary considerations.

Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s (ABAA) annual National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards cash prizes to students who have assembled a book collection centered on a clear theme. The rarity, value and erudition of individual items are secondary considerations.

“To build up a library is to create a life. It’s never just a random collection of books.”

― Carlos Maria Domínguez,
The House of Paper

Such is the guiding philosophy of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s (ABAA) annual National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest. Launched in 2005, the event is open to college students who have either won their institution’s competition or whose institution doesn’t sponsor their own event. Forty-three American colleges currently conduct a student book-collecting challenge.

The ABAA event awards cash prizes to students who have assembled a book collection centered on a clear theme. The rarity, value and erudition of individual items are secondary considerations. Past winners have collected books on baseball, fantasy, science fiction, comic books and Bob Dylan, as well as tomes on religion, art and science.

contest_logo200An accumulation of books doesn’t count as collection. As with any fine assemblage, focus trumps quantity; a small, well-thought-out collection of romance novels may best a large, random grouping of literature. Contest judges evaluate “the intrinsic significance, innovation and interest of book collections as presented in entrants’ descriptive essays and bibliographies.”

Entrants must submit an essay and an annotated bibliography along with their application. This is, after all, a collegiate contest: scholarship reigns. The essay must define the theme, scope and framework of one’s collection. Students must demonstrate an understanding of the individual books in their group; descriptions of how, when, where and why particular books were collected and how each book relates to the others are required.

Only books personally owned by a student may be included, and individual collections must contain at least 25 books. Contest rules are similar for the national competition and the forty-three colleges that conduct an event.

“I believe that if we can get even a few undergraduates hooked on the notion of acquiring and keeping books in a logical and constructive way…then later on when they can afford it…these are the people who will support your library when it needs it.”

In the same document, University of South Florida professor Fred C. Pfister and his associate Bruce E. Fleury expand on Houghton’s remark, and elaborate on how a book-collecting contest may benefit libraries:

“In addition to encouraging today’s students to become tomorrow’s library supporters, a book collecting contest provides a useful focal point for the energies of friends groups and can lead to valuable publicity for friends and for the library.”

What’s needed to make such a contest a success, say Pfister and Fleury, are the following:

• Well-funded prizes;
• A carefully selected panel of judges;
• A comprehensive set of contest rules;
• A stable organization to ensure continuity.

Donors wishing to support the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest may do so at the ABAA website.

Students have until May 31, 2016 to submit their essay and application for this year’s contest.


Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser and Accredited Business Broker. He has held the professional designations of Certified Estate Specialist; Accredited Auctioneer of Real Estate; Certified Auction Specialist, Residential Real Estate and Accredited Business Broker. He also has held state licenses in Real Estate and Insurance. Wayne is a regular columnist for Antique Trader Magazine, a WorthPoint Worthologist (appraiser) and the author of two books. For more info, visit Wayne Jordan Auctions or Resale Retailing with Wayne Jordan.

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