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Undergraduate Book Collecting Winners Recognized


The winners of the 2013 Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Collecting recently met with members of the selection committee, Susan Fliss and Dan Hazen. From left to right are, Victoria Baena ’14; Bassey Irele; Rebecca Wingfield; Rachel Howarth; Allison Gofman ’14; Hazen; Fliss; and Catherine Katz ’13.


May 14, 2013 – A grandmother’s gift was the inspiration for this year’s winner of the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting.

Catherine Katz ’13, was the first place winner for her entry “My Grandmother’s Childhood Library: Collecting Early 20th Century Stratemeyer Syndicate Children’s Series.” Katz said her grandmother’s gift of a half dozen original editions of favorite childhood stories helped foster an early love of books.

Those stories included the Bobbsey Twins tales and Nancy Drew mysteries from the 1930s, and over the years, Katz said she would hunt through book stores and antique shops in an effort to add to her growing collection. But upon reading revised editions of the Nancy Drew stories written in the ’50s and ’60s, Katz discovered an interesting change.

“In the original stories Nancy was clever and adventurous. But in the 1950s and ’60s editions, she was more of an every day person and just average,” Katz said. “They changed her to be more relatable to the times.”

Established in 1977, the Visiting Committee Prize for Undergraduate Book Collecting is awarded annually 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 Library. The winners were recently recognized at a reception in the Librarian’s Office in Widener Library on April 30.

“Each year we receive some extraordinary entries which demonstrate the unique collecting interests of some of our undergraduates, and this year was no different. The collections submitted to the judges were impressive for their quality and thoughtful approach to collecting. I want to congratulate this year’s winners and thank the judges for their participation,” said Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research, Teaching and Learning and Interim Librarian of Harvard College.

For Allison Gofman ’14, collecting goes beyond a book’s physical pages. The second-place winner seeks out not only books, but also speaking engagements by the various authors, producing a multi-layered approach to connecting with a book.

“Collecting is a very personal thing and I collect books that have made an impact on my life,” Gofman said. “By hearing the authors speak, and getting the book signed, it’s a way to connect the world created by the author and the external world.”

Her collection is entitled, “Tangible Flights of Imagination: Works of Science Fiction and Fantasy as Physical Objects.”

Exploring fictional fantasy worlds was also a means of escape for Victoria Baena ’14. But as she got older and began reading fiction based in foreign settings, a desire to travel and experience different cultures developed within Baena, winner of the third place prize for her collection “An Innocent Abroad: Tales of the Foreigner.”

“It was revolutionary for me to realize that there were all these different worlds and cultures right here in the world we live in. I didn’t need a fantastical world, I could escape in the world we live in,” Baena said.  

Students competing for the book collecting prize submit an annotated bibliography and an essay on their collecting efforts, the influence of mentors, and the experience of searching for, organizing and caring for items and the future direction of the collection. Twelve students declared their intention to enter this year’s competition, and four students submitted their completed essays and bibliographies for consideration. The members of the Selection Committee were Rachel Howarth, Associate Librarian of Houghton Library for Public Services; Bassey Irele, Librarian for Sub-Saharan Africa in Widener Library Collection Development; and Rebecca Wingfield, Bibliographic Specialist for North America in Widener Library Collection Development.

The first prize winner received a cash award of $1,500, while the second prize winner received $1,000 and third place was awarded $750.

An exhibition featuring items from the winners' collections will be on display on the second and third floors of Lamont Library beginning May 27. An exhibit from the first place winner of the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting, graduate student Matthew Gin, will also be on display in Lamont.