Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck children’s librarian, dies at 72

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Harriet Fargnoli
Harriett Fargnoli, a senior librarian at the Great Neck Library from 1991 to 2007, died last week. She was 72. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Library)

Harriett Fargnoli, a senior children’s librarian at the Great Neck Library from 1991 to 2007, died on Aug. 24 from metastatic breast cancer. She was 72.

Family and colleagues recalled Fargnoli as a curious, kind and dedicated woman who radiated passion for the library, the children who came there and people in general.

“She was a wonderful wife, magnificent mother, and very creative. Everything she did was creatively done,” Nicholas Fargnoli, Harriett’s husband and the dean of humanities at Molloy College, said. “The way she put things together, she was like Picasso.”

In the nearly two decades Fargnoli worked at the Great Neck Library, she rarely took a day off, and often came in on Sundays. This was despite battling breast cancer for 20 years.

“She was dedicated to her job,” said Sandy Garrison, a children’s librarian and Great Neck resident who worked under Fargnoli for many years. “There was no question.”

With colleagues, Fargnoli designed and hosted programs to engage children and their families with books, ranging from the celebration of Curious George’s Birthday Party to Teatime with Peter Rabbit.

It was this engagement, Nicholas Fargnoli said, that led one of her younger readers to nominate her for the New York Times Librarian of the Year Award in 2005, which she won.

Justin Crossfox, the head of the Parkville Library Branch who became the top children’s librarian when Fargnoli retired, said he marveled at her knowledge of children’s literature and ability to juggle schedules, projects and other responsibilities all at once.

And all of this, he said, was while being open to the staff and anyone who came to her.

“She was lovely, absolutely lovely,” Crossfox said. “She trained me, she lived for the collection and this programming, and it just brought her so much joy. She gave herself into the children’s department and the library so generously.”

“I try to have her work ethic,” Crossfox added. “I was always shocked at the extreme amount of work that she was able to do with a smile without ever being frazzled.”

Harriett Fargnoli also served as president of the Great Neck Library Staff Association and as a board member of the Children Services Division of the Nassau County Library Association.

Prior to working in the Great Neck Library, Fargnoli worked as a school media specialist at the Oceanside school district from 1988 to 1990 and as a librarian at the Rockville Centre school district from 1986 to 1988, according to her LinkedIn profile. She lived in Rockville Centre.

Fargnoli also worked as a librarian at the Milwaukee Children’s Hospital from November 1973 to May 1974 and at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, Massachusetts, from June 1970 to August 1973.

Nicholas Fargnoli met Harriett when she was serving as a precinct captain for George McGovern’s presidential race in Andover, he said, and she often quipped that Massachusetts was the only state he won – because of her hard work.

They were married for 44 years and have three children: Giuliana, Alessandro and Gioia.

She earned her master’s degree in library science from Simmons College in 1970 and a history degree from Ohio State University in 1967.

“I think at Simmons she realized she wanted to focus on children’s literature,” Nicholas Fargnoli said, “because the child is the future.”

He also noted her love of gardening and Saratoga Springs, where her funeral service was held.

One of her favorite sayings attributed to Cicero, Nicholas Fargnoli said, still hangs on their kitchen refrigerator: “If you have a garden and a library, you have all that you need.”

Harriett Fargnoli was predeceased by her parents, Frank and Viola Nalty of Columbus, Ohio, and her aunts Nellie Burnworth and Faye Harmon of Bremen, Ohio. In addition to her husband, Fargnoli is survived by their three children, her son-in-law, Joshua Chapman, and two grandsons, Phineas and Jupiter Chapman.

Nicholas Fargnoli said there will be a memorial service for Harriett in the fall, likely in October.

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