David Murray Book Collecting prize 2020: the winners!

The entries came in, the jury deliberated, and we are now delighted to reveal the winners of our 2019-20 David Murray book collecting prize.

The judging panel had a very difficult task in awarding the prize this year. Not only were all of the entries of considerable quality and interest – dividing opinions and provoking debate – but inevitably the Coronavirus lockdown disrupted the usual course of decision making and shortlisting. Inviting a selection of competitors into the University Library to present on their collections was obviously impossible. Given the stress and fatigue of endless zoom meetings, online examinations and the general weirdness of life in general, we felt it would have been unfair to subject our students to a virtual face off, so in these exceptional times we made the exceptional decision to award the prize jointly to two very worthy winners (in no particular order):

Rachel Fletcher for Lexicography and the history of English

In the third year of her PhD on Old English dictionaries, Rachel’s deep love of her subject is evident in her growing collection of lexicographical lovelies.

Rachel and a dictionary from her collection
Rachel Fletcher and a dictionary from her collection

Currently comprised of nearly twenty items, Rachel’s collection focuses on dictionaries as evidence for the history of the English language. As she explains:

I began this collection more than a decade ago, almost without realising it, when I saw the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and Britannica World Language Dictionary in a local charity shop. Despite having no use for it – my parents owned several perfectly serviceable dictionaries already – I was fascinated by it, and I sometimes used to read it secretly at night and make a list of my favourite words from it.

Rachel’s entry included a comprehensive listing of all her books, picking out interesting features of each, and she also discussed the projected pattern of her future collection. As one judge commented, this is a ‘very interesting collection with a clear theme and good organisation’. As well as writing authoritatively about the historical context of her collection items, she drew out the quirky aspects of the various works and explained what she found personally appealing about each book – from serendipitous charity shop finds through to the extra element of specialness provided by association copies.

The largest and smallest books in Rachel's collection
The largest and smallest books in Rachel’s collection

Rachel’s sensitivity about the materiality of her books was also evident in her comments about the condition of some of her acquisitions, and – probably most pertinently for anyone who collects dictionaries – the frequently unwieldy size and shape of them. So we realise that you may not yet have the space to acquire a complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary, Rachel, but hope this prize gives you an opportunity to develop your collection in some ‘smaller’ way.

Micaela Beigel for Once We Were Dreamers: A Collection of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

Micaela is currently working towards an MRes in Human Geography. Her collection of some thirty items on Jewish resistance during the Holocaust resonates deeply with her sense of identity and personal growth as a young Jewish woman who grew up in Brooklyn.

Like many book collectors, Micaela started young at the age of 11, although – at over 1,000 page – it was many years before she actually read her first ‘accidental’ acquisition A Surplus of Memory: A Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Yitzhak “Antek” Zuckerman:

Instead of tossing the book, I decided to keep it, though it became relegated to a corner of my shelf, designated as unreadable … In retrospect, I must have kept Zuckerman’s book because I suspected its rarity, and even the possibility of such a story was enough to make my skin itch in excitement.

A trip to Warsaw at the age of 19 was the catalyst for Micaela to start collecting in earnest, realizing that in the stories of the Jews who lead the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising she found a narrative of Jewish victory, rather than tragedy.

Some of the books from the collection of Micaela Beigel

The judges were impressed by the passion of Micaela’s application, and the convincing way in which she is building up her collection to construct a moving and powerful story that she describes as a ‘scavenger hunt through history … Every time I hold a new book in my hand, I feel more confident that this history is not going to just disappear’. Although currently a small collection, Micaela’s entry included a detailed listing and description of each item, highlighting eloquently the importance of each book to her. She clearly explained how the collection has evolved, expressing the satisfaction derived from eventually finding elusive works. In her ongoing vision, the collection is not ‘fixed’, although Micaela’s immediate aspiration is to add more female narratives to her library; hopefully our prize will enable this development.

As well as each winning £250 to spend on their own book collections, Rachel and Micaela also receive a year’s membership of the Friends of Glasgow University Library.

Although it has not been possible to convey our congratulations personally to Rachel and Micaela this year, the judges offer their warmest virtual congratulations and thanks for two such outstanding entries.

If you are a budding book collector, please do watch out for your opportunity to enter next year’ s competition. If you entered this year’s competition and were not chosen as our winner this time round – thank you so much for your entry: it really was a tough decision and we thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your submissions. Please do keep up the collecting!

Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library

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