Sheffield, Singerman, Jasper Win Undergraduate Book Collecting Prizes

Book Collecting winners

The three winners of the 2009 Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting recently met with jury members
and Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College Nancy Cline. From left, Lynn Shirey, Librarian for Latin America, Spain and Portugal; second place winner Adam Singerman, Class of 2009; first place winner John Sheffield, Class of 2009, third place winner Marykate Jasper, Class of 2011; Nancy Cline; Martin Schreiner, Interim Librarian of Lamont Library and Pamela Matz, Research Librarian
at Widener Library.

May 5, 2009 - Two years ago, with the support of the Liga Argentina por los Derechos del Hombre (Argentine League for the Rights of Man,) John Sheffield, Class of 2009, began collecting books, military training manuals and other materials, hoping to preserve what little documentary evidence remains from Argentina's brutal military dictatorship. After poring through book and antique stores in Buenos Aires, Sheffield found several extremely rare training manuals, which offer insight into the methods used to repress leftists.

But while his exhaustive work to create the collection, titled, "¿Nunca Más? The Ideology of State Terrorism in Argentina," recently earned him first prize in the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting, the collection's importance for Sheffield goes much deeper.

"Most of the documents that existed under the dictatorship were destroyed at the end, so there's virtually no documentary record of what the dictatorship did," said Sheffield, who has worked for the League as a volunteer for the past two years. "A lot of my collection is still down in Argentina, in the League's offices, where they're copying items and trying to document the dictatorship's actions using my collection."

"Most of the books were not difficult to find," Sheffield said. "But some of this material is very rare simply because they were printed by the Circulo Militar, and they just didn't print many copies of some of this material." All told, Sheffield said, the collection includes between 40 and 50 books, and as many as 300 photocopies of books, training manuals and other materials.

Second place winner Adam Singerman, Class of 2009, also focused his collection on Latin America, but his entry, "The Modern Mayan Languages of Guatemala," examined the region through a linguistic lens. His approximately 50-item collection ranges from grammars and dictionaries to books dealing with ethnography of indigenous populations in Latin America, and even includes archeological materials.

 "I've been really fortunate, as an undergraduate, in that I've been able to secure some research funds from the University to do work with indigenous American languages," Singerman said. "With encouragement from my professors, I went to Guatemala for the first time in the summer of 2007 to try to study a Mayan language."

When it came time to choose a topic for his thesis, Singerman's professors urged him to return to the work he'd completed on Mayan languages during his first trip to Guatemala. Singerman eventually completed two more trips to the Central American nation, spending a total of about five months in the country, and building the bulk of his award-winning collection.

"Most of the books which I am now proud to have on my shelf I collected while I was down there," he said. "Some of the books I acquired from the regional offices for each of the 22 officially-recognized linguistic communities, so many of the books I associate very specifically with certain places."

Third place winner Marykate Jasper, Class of 2011, said her collection, "Robin Hood Revisited: A Collection of New Takes on an Old Outlaw," was inspired by the Robin Hood stories she enjoyed as a girl.

"Growing up, we lived near the woods, so Robin Hood was my favorite story when I was young," she said. "I had always read the books, but I didn't start collecting until junior high school, when I began to read different variations on the Robin Hood story."

All three winners met recently with Nancy Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, who congratulated them on their persistence in locating specific items, and for creating three superb collections.

"It is always insightful to see the different approaches each student has taken, finding processes that suit the materials they are pursuing, or keeping within a budget, or responding to cultural and political conditions in different regions of the world," Cline said. "Each one approached collecting differently and yet each of this year's recipients relied on networks of people to locate specific editions or particularly obscure items.  These personal contacts often led to unexpected "finds."  It was also interesting to note that in each collection it was not the most expensive items that the owner considered to be the most valuable."

Students competing for the book collecting prize submit an annotated bibliography and an essay on their collecting efforts, the influence of mentors, the experience of searching for, organizing and caring for items and the future direction of the collection. Eighteen students declared their intention to enter the competition and eight submitted their work for consideration. The jury consisted of Martin Schreiner, Interim Librarian of the Lamont Library; Pamela Matz, Research Librarian at Widener Library and Lynn Shirey, Librarian for Latin America, Spain and Portugal in Widener Library.

The Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting was established in the spring of 1977 to recognize and encourage book collecting by undergraduates at Harvard. It is sponsored by the Members of the Board of Overseer's Committee to Visit the Harvard University Library.

An exhibition featuring items from the winners' collections will be on display in Lamont Library on the second and third floors beginning in early June and running through May 2010.