A world of difference: Inauspicious start turned into long term on board

RANTOUL — When Fran Biederman first ran for the Rantoul Public Library Board, the library was located at the corner of Century Boulevard and Champaign Avenue, Chanute Air Force Base was still open, and she ran as a write-in candidate. She received all of five votes, which was good enough to get her elected.

Twenty-nine years later, the 82-year-old Biederman, who served as board president for the past few years, is stepping down. Time for someone else to serve.

“The biggest change is the new library,” Biederman said of her nearly three decades of service. “(Former Mayor) Joe Brown was great. He got different sites for us to visit on the base and in town (in the search for a new library building.) We decided to take the old bowling alley on base” located on West Flessner Avenue.

The library was supposed to receive a $300,000 Illinois FIRST grant, which was approved under former Gov. George Ryan, but there was a snag.

“It had to be approved and signed, but (former Gov. Rod) Blagojevich got elected, and he froze the funds,” Biederman said.

That money never did materialize, but the library did receive a separate $100,000 state grant, spearheaded by former State Rep. Bill Black.

The library made up for not receiving the Illinois FIRST money by securing a 0 percent $360,000 loan from the village. The $100,000 was applied toward the loan.  The village wrote off the remainder of the loan.

The library is a component unit of the village. That means it is tied into the village budget and tax levy process but is governed by a separate board.

The entire project cost $2.4 million. Biederman said much of that total came through private and corporate donations.

After her many years of service on the library board, Biederman decided now was a good time to step down.

“I thought after 29 years it was time,” she said. “Somebody else deserves a chance.”

Biederman said the library has “a great staff.”

“I think we have a fabulous library for this small of a town. It takes a lot of work.”

Library Director Holly Thompson said the community has been lucky to have had Biederman’s service on the board.

“She’s been a hard worker behind the scenes,” Thompson said. “She’s meticulous. She was a secretary a long time before she was president.”

Biederman looked back at some of the highlights at the library.

“We had a lot of help from Bill Gates getting our computers,” Biederman said. “We got grants from him. I think we got 12 computers. I just think the upgrade in the systems and what they can use at home now and going high tech more or less” are highlights of the changes.

Other attractive programs include those for children, “the story hours, the summer reading program.”

She said the staff is always trying to think of new programs that are attractive for various age groups. The library isn’t just a place to check out books. Far from it, with programs such as Yarn N Yak, Writers Group and Artemis Spaceship Simulation

Biederman said the library staff made her job as board member, and later officer, easy.

“We work very well together,” she said. “We very seldom had any friction that we couldn’t handle just within the board.”

Biederman said the library’s financial health “is good.”

“We get a budget from the village every year. We have to put in for a levy. I think our budget was $100 less this year,” she said. “We really stick very close to the budget.

We don’t spend money foolishly. Luckily we have a little left at the end of the year.”

Probably the biggest purchase facing the library is a new roof, which will be coming in a few years. Biederman said a roofer told the board the roof has about another 10 years left.

Biederman’s successor as chairman will be selected at the board’s monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 9.



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