URBANA – Fred Schlipf, who has been the Urbana Free Library's executive director since August 1974 and who recently oversaw a major library expansion, is planning to retire next year.
Schlipf, 64, said he will step down next May. The 10 months of lead time will give the library board plenty of time to have a successor in place when he steps down, he said.
"It's been a great career," Schlipf said. "Urbana's a wonderful place to be. It's hard to imagine a better place to run a library than Urbana."
Schlipf has been executive director of the library for most of his adult life. He took the job in 1974 after working four years at the University of Illinois as a library science professor. He has remained as an adjunct associate professor at the UI and intends to keep that position after he steps down at the library.
He also will continue working as a consultant on library building design.
Schlipf said he's acted as a consultant on about 80 library construction projects.
Kermit Harden, chairman of the library board of trustees, said Schlipf has "done an excellent job."
"He's well-respected throughout the state," Harden said. "He'll be hard to replace because he meshes so well with our community."
Schlipf was named Illinois librarian of the year in 2000 by the Illinois Library Association.
Schlipf, an Urbana resident, said he has no plans to move away. "This is where my friends and family are," he said.
He's a native of Fargo, N.D., who obtained his doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago.
It was only about a year ago that Schlipf helped oversee the grand opening of the expansion of the Urbana Free Library, an $8.5 million project that roughly doubled the library's size from 25,000 to 50,000 square feet.
Planning for that expansion took decades, he said.
"We bought the first property for expansion in 1978, and we started doing very serious planning in 1987," he said. "It was a big, complicated undertaking. I'm very pleased with the result. I think it's very much what the community wanted."
The addition and a mid-1970s addition were designed to match the original front of the library, which dates to 1918.
Schlipf said one of the improvements during his tenure that he's most proud of is the expansion of the Champaign County Historical Archives, a comprehensive collection of county records that dates back to the early 1800s and which includes 3 million indexed entries.
"People come here from all over the country to do research," he said.
The library also offers a strong children's department with a motivated staff and an adult department that includes a book collection with "a lot of depth."
"We have a lot of older material that is still popular," he said.
The library's fiction collection is also strong, Schlipf said.
Schlipf said he thinks the mark of a good public library is friendly employees who want to make the library experience a good one for visitors. He said he thinks the library's 80 full- and part-time employees do provide "a warm and friendly atmosphere."