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People on Campus: Librarian Caroline Harnly

December 8, 2006

Photo of Caroline Harnly performing with handbellsLibrarian Caroline Harnly divides most of her time between the J. Paul Leonard Library and the musical venues where she directs the SF State Handbell Choir. A handbell musician since 1976, Harnly founded the choir in February 1997 after she taught some colleagues to play a few songs during a faculty and staff retreat. In addition to conducting the choir at State and another at a church in Half Moon Bay, Harnly has performed as a soloist accompanied by piano and organ. She also plays with other groups including the Bay Bells and the Marching Handbell Choir, which has performed in the Rose Bowl and Calgary Stampede parades.

"Caroline does an amazing job organizing our music and gently cajoling us to learn pieces we think are difficult," said Miriam Smith, a member of the SF Hand Bell Choir and associate professor in the Broadcast and Electronic Communications Arts Department. "We like to joke that having a librarian as our director means we rehearse our music in alphabetical order -- and it is annotated."

The SF State group performs as a full choir of 10 or 11 ringers handling four bells each and also as a smaller ensemble. The holidays are their busiest time. Performances this month include the holiday party at the Temple United Methodist Church, where the group rehearses, and on the SF State campus.

According to Harnly, the practice of handbell ringing originated in England during the 19th century, when those who rang church bells wanted to practice their skills without revealing their mistakes to others. Small brass bells that played the notes of the bells in the steeples were developed for practice.

"Everybody thinks that handbells were invented by the Swiss," Harnly said, who traces the misconception to P.T. Barnum. "He thought that the English were too drab in appearance, so he dressed the ringers in traditional Swiss alpine clothing." Handbell choirs as entertainment dipped in popularity by the 20th century but re-emerged in churches during the 1950s. "Since the '60s and '70s community handbell choirs have been steadily growing all over the United States," Harnly said.

A piano player since age 9 and cellist from junior high through college, Harnly believes that anyone can be taught to play handbells, "but it's much better if you read music." Each ringer plays four to six bells. The musicians must be able to hit their notes at the right moment to keep up a fluid tempo. The faster the music, the more difficult it is for the ringers to keep up with each other. "It's better to rely on the landscape of measures and notes than try to play by ear," Harnly said. "If you get lost by just listening, it will be very difficult to find your place again."

Born in Palo Alto but raised in Bakersfield and Napa, Harnly, like her father and paternal grandfather, had a keen interest in math and science. She received a baccalaureate degree in math from McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., where her great-grandfather was the college's first science teacher. She received her master of science in library science from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

As the Library's physical science and engineering specialist, Harnly purchases and maintains the book and journal collections in mathematics, astronomy, physics, meteorology, chemistry, geology, engineering and family and consumer studies. In addition she conducts library instruction sections on use of the collection and serves as a general reference librarian. This semester she is sending selected books in the collection to storage at Sonoma State to make way for the construction phase of the Library's expansion.

Darlene Tong, head of information, research and instructional services and faculty co-chair at the Library, said Harnly is methodical but passionate, unrelenting and wholeheartedly energetic toward her work in the Library. "She's bound and determined to meet any expected deadline," Tong said. Harnly is also known around the Library as the "Cookie Queen" because she has baked untold amounts of cookies for Library events.

Colleagues who have served with Harnly on several Academic Senate committees are impressed by her extensive knowledge about the University and her thorough analysis on issues. Harnly was the first librarian elected to the University Promotions Committee and serves as the Library's representative on the University Sabbatical Committee.

A Pacifica resident, Harnly also enjoys knitting, counted cross stitching and traveling with her mother. She is looking forward to attending an ElderHostel in Sante Fe and Taos, N.M., in January.

A free concert of the Handbell Choir will take place from 11:15 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Dec. 12, in the August Coppola Theater of the Fine Arts building.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified December 8, 2006 by University Communications