Before leaving his international boarding school in New Mexico to begin his first year at Harvard, Jura Pintar ’05 shipped his belongings across the country to his Thayer dorm room.
Among those belongings were 11 large boxes of books.
“My books were all over the place freshman year—the shelves just couldn’t accommodate them,” says Pintar, who is originally from Croatia. “They were lined up on the fireplace mantel, they covered my desktop and they filled my desk drawers. Eventually, the overcrowding got so bad that I just started stacking them up in corners and next to my bed.”
“I’m like a hamster; I just can’t bear to part with them,” adds Pintar, who now keeps roughly 300 books in his Lowell House dorm room.
Pintar won second-place last year in the Visiting Committee’s competition for undergraduate book collecting.
The prize, which was established in 1977 by members of the Board of Overseer’s Committee to Visit the Harvard University Library and which is administered through Lamont Library, is awarded annually to undergraduates who have formed the most coherent, promising and thoughtful book collections.
The winner receives $1,000 while second and third place winners are awarded $750 and $500 each.
One of only two competitions run through Harvard’s libraries, the contest is open to all undergraduates at the University.
The other contest, the Philip Hofer Prize, is awarded every other year and focuses on book and art collecting. It is administered through Houghton Library and is open to students at all of Harvard’s graduate schools.
Joining the Competition
To enter the competition, students must submit a 2,500-word essay as well as an annotated bibliography containing no less than 30 but no more than 50 titles about their book collecting efforts, the influence of their mentors, the acquisition and care of their books and the future direction of their collection.
“The essay and the bibliography are the most important parts of the application,” says Heather E. Cole, librarian of Lamont and Hilles libraries. “After all, we don’t expect students to have collections that are already complete and ready for sale at Sotheby’s. Rather, we are looking for students who want to build on their collections.”
Pinter, who reads books in English, Croatian, German, Latin and Greek, won a prize last year for his 50-volume collection of Marxist philosophy. He says that his collection actually contains more than 100 volumes, but that he pared it down for the contest.
The rarity and financial worth of the collections is not taken into account by the judges, who are newly selected each year.
“It’s not a prize about quantity, but rather quality—that and the coherence of the collection,” Cole says.