A painting of Spiderman
A painting of Spiderman created by Ayah A., aged 16, who was one of the 2022 Geek Out contest winners. Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

For the month of November, Colorado residents between the ages of 11-18 can submit a passion project into Arapahoe Libraries’ annual “Geek Out” contest and have a chance at winning one of 12 prizes. 

Whether it be cosplaying, creating fan art, writing stories, or composing music, all types of projects can be entered into the contest. 

Prizes include gaming systems (a PlayStation 5 and Meta Quest 2 starter bundle), an iPad and Visa gift cards ranging from $50-$200. 

The contest is an opportunity for teens to pick something they are passionate about, said Catherine Boddie, the teen services supervisor for Arapahoe Libraries. 

“It can be what we would consider a traditional fandom related to pop culture, like a book or a movie, TV show, something like that,” she said. “Or, it can be a non-traditional hobby — just something that they’re very interested in.”

Boddie said the sky’s the limit on what submissions can be. 

“They can really, literally make anything that they want to represent their fandom, the thing that they are passionate about,” she said. “We’ve never actually rejected an entry for not fitting one of our categories.”

A wooden, decorated lantern
One of the 2022 Geek Out contest winners was 11-year-old Freyja H., who crafted a “Lord of the Rings” lantern. Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

Previous contest submissions include sculptures, written essays, two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, scripted videos and more. 

One unique submission was when a teen customized a lawn mower, demonstrating their passion for automotive maintenance, Boddie said. 

Last year, a seventh-grader, whose long-term goal is to become a composer for video games, composed a song for a game and filmed herself playing all of the different parts.

Another teen, who had been entering the contest since middle school, finally won a prize last year as an upperclassman in high school.

“It was really fun to see the progression of his craft and his art, and the things that he was interested in and passionate about,” Boddie said. 

There have been few teens who have told Boddie that they used their contest submissions as part of their portfolios to apply for university. 

 “I think the impact that it has had on the teens in our community, for me, is the most rewarding part of the contest and being able to see what they’re doing with that and how it has influenced them,” Boddie said. 

“To see the ways that it translates into a broader community or helps them to discover friendships … is really fun,” she added. 

Boddie encouraged all teens to know that this contest is for them and to give it a try. 

When asked what she hopes participants take away from the experience, she said, “I hope that teens come away maybe with a newfound confidence to try something that they wouldn’t have before, or even just with some sort of reassurance that the things that they love and are passionate about matter.” 

“They’re important, and the things that they love are important.”

A model of a library
A 2021 Geek Out contest winner was Eiley S. for the submission, “Harry Potter Library Model.” Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

How to enter into the contest 

There are a few different ways to enter the Geek Out contest, Boddie said. 

One option is by visiting any Arapahoe Libraries location between now and Nov. 30 to submit an entry. There are entry forms at every location for participants to fill out.

Entry forms are also available online at arapahoelibraries.org/geek-out. Participants can submit images of their project, as well as submit digital art.  

“We love to see stuff in person, but we also recognize that transportation can be an issue for teens,” she said. 

The contest has a cosplay category and offers an in-person event where the cosplayers can come together and show off their costumes to judges. This year’s event will be at the Koelbel Library at 2 p.m. Nov. 18. 

A cosplayer herself, one of Boddie’s favorite parts of the cosplay event is seeing the participants connect with one another. 

“It starts as a group of strangers at the beginning. By the end of the two hours they’re with us, they’re just chatting away,” she said. “It’s really fun to see some of those connections, which I think kind of, post-pandemic, is something that a lot of our teens lost during those years of the shutdown.”

A person dressed in costume as "The Mandalorian" from "Star Wars."
One of the 2022 Geek Out contest winners was 16-year-old Caleb. F, who did cosplay of the “Star Wars” character, “The Mandalorian.” Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

For those doing cosplay, they can attend the in-person event or they can enter the contest online. 

Group submissions are permitted, but they are only eligible for the gift card prizes. 

Given that the contest is open to people between the ages of 11-18, Boddie said a common question is whether the older teens have an edge and always win. 

“That’s not the case, actually,” she said. “We frequently have a pretty good spread.”

One of her tips for participants is to show judges their process for creating their project, such as providing progress shots or time-lapse videos. 

“They love to see how you got from what your idea was to what your final product was,” she said. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the library district has gotten roughly 75 entries a year into the contest. Boddie said she’d love to see more than 100 submissions this year. 

After the contest ends Nov. 30, the judges will typically decide by the following Thursday who the winners are, she said. There are usually about 35 library staff members who help judge the contest. 

A few days after deciding the winners, the library district will host a big party that is set up similar to a gallery viewing, displaying printed images of the submissions. 

“Regardless of whether they win or not, everyone is invited to the party and everyone will be featured and showcased,” she said. 

The celebration also includes an award ceremony, she said. 

“It’s fun to be able to give that chance for the kids to meet and … geek out about one another’s things,” she said. 

Digital artwork
A 2021 Geek Out contest winner was Arwen C. for the submission, “Undertale Digital Art.” Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

A decade of ‘geeking out’

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Geek Out contest is one of Boddie’s favorite annual events that Arapahoe Libraries hosts, and it has excited her to see how it has evolved over the years.

The contest started with Boddie and one of her colleagues, as they were looking for ways to engage teens in the community and highlight their passions. 

“Helping them to understand that the library is still a space for them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy reading,” she said. 

At the time, the idea of fandoms was really big and resonated with people, she said. 

“And that idea of like, ‘Geek is chic,’ … and being a nerd is something that’s cool to be was really, kind of, in the conversation at that time, and so we sort of took that,” she said. 

She said it has been fascinating to see how the entries have changed over the years. For example, the contest gets a lot more anime-based submissions now than it did 10 years ago. 

“It’s been interesting to see that evolution and what kids are interested in,” she said. 

A 3D design of an "Iron Man" mask.
One of the 2019 Geek Out contest winners was 12-year-old Kaden W. for his 3D design of the “Iron Man” helmet. Credit: Courtesy of Arapahoe Libraries

As the contest has changed over the years, the library district examined some access issues that could impact teens’ abilities to enter into the contest.

Boddie said the district realized it needed to provide some spaces for teens who do not have supplies at home to build something. The library district added some programs in October and November where people can visit the library and get supplies. 

“We’re looking at ways to involve and extend that access even further,” she said. “Every year, we sort of reevaluate: What does that look like?”

This year, for the first time, the library district has also translated the materials related to the contest into multiple languages other than English, she said. The district has also worked with some local schools to reach immigrant and refugee populations. 

“Part of the reason for the contest is, it does help us kind of stay connected, as teen librarians, with what teens are super excited about,” Boddie said. 

She hopes that the teens in the community will see the library as a space for them where they can feel a sense of belonging. 

“The other really great, sort of unintended … side effect of it is that it helps adults who maybe are not always the biggest fans of having teens around or working with teens to kind of start to see them as developing little humans,” she said. 

“But also to see how creative and passionate they are about things,” she added. “Build some empathy and some common ground, I think, for the staff members in our library but also just adults in the community in general.” 

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