Belk Learning Center
By Tedd Roseberry, Upper School Head Librarian

The dramatic new structure where the Dickson-Sanger Dining Hall once stood is hard to miss as you walk across campus. But equally important—and far less obvious—is the work that happened behind the scenes to prepare for the August 2020 opening of the John and Claudia Belk Upper School Learning Center.

Here’s a glimpse at what librarian Sarah Richardson and I did to prepare for the big move, which brings Country Day’s tradition of excellent libraries into a new era of providing college-ready research skills for our Upper School students. Similar to a college or university setting, the Belk Learning Center includes flexible, multi-use space for collaboration, creativity, and student relaxation, as well as traditional library space for quiet study and research. Last year, our primary task was to adapt our existing resources to work in the new space. The new Belk Learning Center includes shelving for about 12,000 volumes. Our prior collection was considerably larger than that, closer to 18,000 books.

Analyzing our circulation statistics and identifying everything that had not been checked out in the past five  years gave us an initial idea of what we were not using. Then teachers and librarians identified many non-circulating items that we wanted to maintain in our collection. This process put us close to our 12,000-volume goal—and left us with the dilemma of what to do with the rest. Fortunately, we were able to connect with Promising Pages, a local charity that partners with over 40 other groups to distribute donated books where they are needed. Thanks to their staff and volunteers, including Executive Director Eric Law ’76, we met our ambitious goal of keeping 6,000 books out of the landfill.

Our distinct mission is to serve the reading and research needs of grades 9–12 at a highly rigorous college preparatory school. That means we still need books—vitally so. But it also means we need the right books and extensive electronic resources as well.

Books vs. the Internet

Right about now you may be wondering, “How come you got rid of all the books? Aren’t you a library?” Or perhaps you’re thinking, “Do we even need books when we have the Internet?” In my 10 years as an independent school librarian, these are the two questions I have heard most often, and although they appear to stem from opposing assumptions, my answers to them are closely intertwined. 

First, we did not get rid of all the books, precisely because we are a library. But we are a particular kind of library—not a college or university library, although we hope to emulate many of their functions. We also are not an archive, repository, or museum library, all of which focus on preservation. Our distinct mission is to serve the reading and research needs of grades 9–12 at a highly rigorous college preparatory school. That means we still need books—vitally so. But it also means we need the right books and extensive electronic resources as well. It means those needs are always shifting and evolving, and our collection needs to reflect those changes.

Some traditional functions of a school library have been replaced by online tools like Google search and Wikipedia. Short, easy answers are generally just a search box away, and I am happy to send the old “ready reference” desk to cyberspace. That allows us to reallocate our time and money toward weeding out unused books that do not match our current curriculum, and to acquire new resources that support what we teach in our classrooms every day. Most importantly, it frees us to work with students and teachers on more complex research projects, helping kids do the deeper academic research that relies on print materials and academic journal databases.

In today’s library, we experience firsthand as kids explore the edges of our resources, so we can see exactly where our collection needs to grow. Student research has prompted us to add new books in areas ranging from the French Wars of Religion to the development of the banjo from its roots in Africa, to gender fluidity in Hindu mythology. Teacher requests led to school-wide access to individual New York Times subscriptions and the addition of the professional database PsycINFO to our collection. While we also use industry-standard library journals and selection tools in our  collection development, collaboration here at school is what allows us to provide the most immediately valuable research materials that we might otherwise miss.

Interior view of Belk Learning Center common area

Few secondary schools can facilitate student research at the level we do. Country Day allows us to provide our kids with a working model of a much larger university library through a strong institutional history of library support. We have a book collection that has been built over many decades; the budget to provide a constant influx of current, new resources; and the personnel to deliver all of this to our community every day. On the rare occasion when a student needs something we don’t have, we can get it. Most importantly, the library is staffed with two ALA-accredited librarians who also have strong classroom teaching backgrounds. We always are available to guide students on the right path to the resources they need.

Preparing Students Well

The new Belk Learning Center completes our ability to prepare Country Day students for their next step to college-level research. Our new library accommodates simultaneously the varied projects and interactions that our rigorous curriculum demands—everything from silent, focused study to discussion-based group projects—in a variety of spaces designed for this diversity. The result of this beautiful new facility is the best we can offer our kids, truly putting Country Day at the forefront of what a high school library can be. Prepare to be amazed!

The John and Claudia Belk Upper School Learning Center

Modeled after state-of-the-art learning commons at top universities, the flexible, multi-use John and Claudia Belk Upper School Learning Center opened in August 2020. The dynamic academic center promotes active collaboration as well as quiet study, while blending access to the latest information technology with traditional books and journals in the Mattei Commons.

  • Expands learning opportunities—14,000 square foot academic center with a variety of indoor and outdoor learning spaces.
  • Incorporates study, meeting, and collaborative space to foster a sense of community through learning.
  • Adds a new recording studio with audio and video equipment, making emerging technologies available to help inspire, educate, and spark creativity. 
  • Features reconfigurable furniture, flexible technology, and a wealth of study space options to  accommodate all learning styles.
About Tedd Roseberry

Tedd joined Country Day in August 2019 and previously served at Carolina Day School, where he was charged with transforming the upper school library into an open, inviting facility that became a hub for student learning and relaxation. Before that, he was librarian and academic technology specialist at Christchurch School in Virginia, where he reorganized and reshaped the library collection to fit the evolving place-based education strategy of the school.

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