One feature sets apart Rapid City's newest library, and should make curling up with a book there feel as comfortable as reading in a rustic lodge while on vacation.

That unusual design element — a fully functional fireplace — gives a decidedly old-school feel to the otherwise very modern-looking new library on the campus of Western Dakota Technical Institute.

"Especially over there by the fireplace, if you're ever cold, it's very relaxing," said environmental engineering student Franklin Wright, 28, who patronized the new library recently.

Added surgical technician student Marti Markovsky, 44: "The downtown library doesn't have a fireplace in it, so it is much more cozy in here."

The $2 million library is a collaboration between the Rapid City Public Library system, Pennington County, and WDTI. The library on Mickelson Drive just east of Cambell Street is open to students and the general public as the eastern branch for the library system. The new branch opened quietly last month, but city, county, state and school officials will be on hand to cut the ribbon today.

"We worked very hard to make this welcoming to the public and the students," said Rapid City Library Director Greta Chapman. "We really need that message to get out, this is a shared library on a college campus."

The shared agreement is unusual, but not unprecedented, Chapman said. WDTI built the library as part of a $12.5 million school expansion. Pennington County donated $1 million to construct the 11,000 square-foot building with WDTI paying the other $1 million through a state bond.

The Rapid City Library system provides staffing, inventory that includes books, and it will pay rent to WDTI of about $238,000 per year. Chapman said that is half of what she expects it would have cost for the same structure had there not been a collaboration.

The new library will increase WDTI's exposure to the community, and could lead to an increase in enrollment, said school President Mark Wilson. "We truly believe this is going to improve the outcomes for our students," he said.

The modern design leaves behind traditional tall, dusty old books shelves and opts instead for chest-high shelves that allow patrons to see clearly from end to end. Sleek looking sound boards provide acoustic control. The dark blue and green color schemes combine with gray and silver to create a soft ambiance. Small meeting rooms are available for collaborative work and desktop computers are open for public use, though most students choose the wireless Internet on their personal laptops.

Flat-screen televisions are wired so laptop computers can be plugged in so users can collaborate or give presentations. A massive conference room could host classes, speeches or company training events.

The children's area has personal computers with playfully colored keyboards. 

The collaborative library concept has challenges. On some days children's area activities could conflict with students prepping for a test.

"We have story time in here and it may not be the best time to be in this corner," Chapman explained while sitting on a cushy reading seat a few paces from the children's section. "Sharing the physical space to get what we have here is the only way this would happen financially."

The collaborative nature will be seamless to most visitors, whether from the county, city or student body.

"I've been coming a lot," said Wright, the environmental engineering student who was a computer technician for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe before returning to school. "It is really nice to sit in here, especially in between classes."

And then, of course, there is the fireplace that has already drawn raves. "It is a quiet place so we can study, so that's kind of nice," said surgery tech student Katie Weimer, 24, of Spearfish.

Contact Ryan Lengerich at 394-8418 or

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