Things I Never Learned in Library School: Local Legends and Local Libraries, a reflection on Luke Perry
I began my career in public libraries in the Fall of 1992 in a small, rural town in the state of Ohio. It’s small, but in many ways magical. Next to this small town is an even smaller town that is still part of our library system, Fredericktown, Ohio. Despite some very real issues with poverty in Knox County, Knox County has a thriving arts community, great walking/bike trails, and it’s always just kind of felt like home. It’s where The Mr. and I went to college, where we lived after we first got married, and where I have spent a large and meaningful part of my years working in public libraries. I hope to return to it one day in the future as it really casts a spell on you.
This small, rural town doesn’t have a lot to claim fame, but it does have Luke Perry. By the time I started working with teens, Beverly Hills, 90210 has already been on the air for two years. While I had moved from Southern California to Knox County, Ohio, Luke Perry had moved from Knox County, Ohio to Southern California. And as someone who had dedicated her life to working for and with teens, I was very familiar with Luke and his work. He is, after all, not only Dylan McKay on 90210 but Pike from the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which also came out in 1992.
Living in a small town, there are a lot of charms but also, especially if you are a teen, there is often a desire to just get out of there. Not everyone shares the desire, but those that understand small town life know how compelling the desire to change scenery can be. For my early teens, Luke Perry was a symbol of hope that they could indeed do just that. Luke Perry was a small town success that reminded us all that we could leave home, make a name for yourself, but also never forget our roots. For even though Luke Perry left, there were traces of him everywhere and he even came back a variety of times. It was, after all, his home and it helped form the core of who he was. There is something about Knox County, you leave but you never really leave; it becomes a part of you and somehow, that means something.
I left Knox County for several years and worked at other libraries, but in January of 2015 I returned to the library I started at and it was glorious. That feeling of going home meant everything to me. And as Riverdale debuted on TV, I was reminded once again of what it meant to have a local hero from your local small town to help inspire teens. And this time was different because I didn’t just talk about the show with my library teens, but I watched it with my very own teenage daughter. Riverdale was a pop culture moment that I could share with my own teenager and that has such tremendous value. Once again, Luke Perry had cast his spell on both my personal and professional life. He feels woven into the fabric of who I am as a YA Librarian.
Yesterday the news came that Luke Perry had passed away and I felt a deep sadness. I watched 90210 because I felt it made me better at my job. Working with teens during the 90s at the height of 90210, he was an important part of many conversations that I had with those teens. And it was different than other pop culture moments because he had those local ties. He was one of our own and we were both proud and inspired. He mattered because he was one of us and he had made us proud.
Sometimes losing someone you don’t know hurts in ways that don’t make sense. I did not know Luke Perry, but he came in and out of my life in important ways as I tried to be successful at my job. And he was a homegrown legend, which always made him seem more real and personal. He wasn’t just some Hollywood star, he was a local boy who succeeded and that meant something to us.
The local is so very important in public libraries. We work hard to know, understand, connect with and serve our local communities. We study statistics, we develop plans and goals, we put together projects and programs to help us meet those goals. But at the end of the day, it is the people that matter. Every conversation that you have, every question you answer, every teen you share a moment with. For me, many of those moments have somehow involved Luke Perry.
Several times throughout the course of the day yesterday I wept. This one feels way more personal than so many of the other pop culture losses. I am thankful every day for the inspiration and hope he provided for the many teens I have worked with over the years. My heart aches for his family as they mourn this loss. Knox County, Ohio has lost one of its own and even though I’m not there today, I feel that loss so acutely. Rest in peace Luke Perry.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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