Skip to content

Dec. 7 is deadline for book collecting contest

November 20, 2017

Are you a bookworm? A spine fondler? A page sniffer? Then you may just have what it takes to win a cash prize in VCU's first Student Book Collecting Contest this year, sponsored by the Department of English, James Branch Cabell Library, and Black Swan Books.

One undergraduate and one graduate student will be selected by a panel of judges as the winners of the contest. The winning undergrad will receive a $100 prize, and the graduate winner will be awarded $200. Selections from both collections may be put on temporary display at Cabell Library.

Matteo Pangallo, Ph.D., a new professor of English at VCU, suggested the contest because he a similar book collecting competition as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and thought the students here would benefit from the experience too. “It was certainly encouraging to me to sort of keep at the book collecting process, though my collections have also gone in slightly different directions since then,” said Pangallo.

The monetary value and rarity of the books won’t be considered by the judges, who will select the winning book collections based on how well the collection has been developed, how well it is justified and how significant or unique it is.

“You don’t win if you have the most expensive collection, or the most elaborate full calf bindings and decorative gilding. It’s not because you have 17th century imprints, it’s about how well the collection is planned and how well it’s explained,” Pangallo said.

As long as there’s an organizing principle, a kind of cohesion to the collection, it will be considered by the panel. For example, the collected works of one particular author, many editions of the same book, or a collection of particular types of books would all be acceptable applications for the contest. Any form a text can take, including but not limited to graphic novels, picture books, zines, and manuscripts will also be accepted in the contest.

“We’re taking the term book very broadly, which is any textual medium of communication, and textual is open to visual as well as verbal. So, any form that the book might take within that definition is acceptable. The one thing we’ve sort of decided to draw the line at is eBooks, because that raises for a scholar of book history really interesting questions about the nature of collecting, but it also seems somewhat unfair in the context of a contest,” said Pangallo.

While he says ebooks are revolutionary in the dissemination of literature across the world, they were excluded from the contest because Pangallo says the physical attributes of a text are necessary for scholars to place the piece in historical context and to determine its value.

“For a scholar of book history who’s interested in the material object and the evidence it communicates about its place in a communication circuit from author to publisher to printer to reader, when you have everything digital the evidence of that circuit disappears,” Pangallo said.

Students are required to submit a cover sheet, brief essay, and annotated bibliography with their book collections by Thursday, Dec.7. Winners will be announced in Jan., 2018.

Submission requirements:

  • Cover sheet with: name, email address, undergraduate or graduate, name of collection.
  • A brief essay (two pages) describing the nature, scope, and rationale of the collection.
  • An annotated bibliography of up to 15 items from the collection.
  • These materials should be combined in one PDF. 
  • Submit materials or questions to by Thursday, December 7. Winners will be announced in January 2018.

Judging Panel: Dr. Adam Abraham (postdoctoral fellow, VCU English), Nicholas Cooke (owner, Black Swan Books), Dr. Joshua Eckhardt (associate professor, VCU English), Yuki Hibben (assistant head and curator of books and art, VCU Special Collections and Archives) Dr. Matteo Pangallo (assistant professor, VCU English), Dr. Rivka Swenson (associate professor, VCU English)

Written by Megan Schiffres. A version of this article was published on the College of Humanities and Sciences website. 

< Previous | Next >


VCU Libraries

James Branch Cabell Library Monroe Park Campus
901 Park Ave., Box 842033
Richmond, VA 23284-2033
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-1111
All Libraries
Tompkins-McCaw Library MCV Campus
509 N. 12th St., Box 980582
Richmond, VA 23298-0582
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-0636

Reserve a room

Please choose a library