Mountlake Terrace librarian makes sure teens have place to feel comfortable

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — A few years ago, Dawn Rutherford planned a teen-oriented program at the Mountlake Terrace Library.

One kid showed up.

Rutherford told him he was the only one who showed, but he was welcome to stay. The two began talking and before long the boy opened up about feeling anxious because his estranged father was coming back into his life.

Being there to listen to him made planning that event worth it.

“Program-wise, it was a failure,” Rutherford said. “Community-wise, it was a success.”

Libraries shouldn’t be limited to reading. They also can be a place for the community to gather regardless of age or nationality, said Rutherford, the Mountlake Terrace Library’s teen services librarian.

“We can look at it as a community center to be better citizens,” she said.

Focusing on teenagers’ assets is more powerful than targeting their deficits.

“It’s about the attitude and the way you accept them and communicate with them,” she said. “You want to be available as an adult who cares but keep healthy boundaries.”

The teen services job takes up about half of Rutherford’s time at the library — she runs teen programs, the reference desk and visits schools in Mountlake Terrace. The other half of her work week is spent at the Sno-Isle Service Center administrative offices in Tulalip.

Roughly 20 young people attend teen programs and events at the Mountlake Terrace Library, ranging from playing “Guitar Hero” to making wallets out of duct tape. Rutherford is planning a “Geek Out at Your Library” film festival for March 31, featuring 1980s “geek hits” like “War Games” and “Back to the Future.” She relies on feedback from teens when planning programs.

“I want people to expect there to be services for teens,” she said. “Teens are so creative, funny and full of life. I feel blessed to work with them.”

Teen literature is booming, and even adults are seeing the value in books aimed at younger audiences, she said.

Most adults avoid teenagers and distance themselves from how painful adolescence was, she said. Rutherford remembers those years and wants to help young people get through them.

“It’s important to have a place that’s predictable,” she said. “What a crazy cocktail they have going on socially.”

She aims to recreate the experience she had with her library while growing up in Spokane. Rutherford still has her first library card, a paper one she got as a toddler. As a kid, librarians had to help her tie the flap on her backpack shut because she carried so many books. She joined the library’s teen group where she and her peers talked about books and received letters from authors whose books they read and sent their reviews.

In college, Rutherford came across the line, “Love is a torch, and you pass it on,” from Geoff Ryman’s novel, “Child Garden.” That line resonated with her. Rutherford loves books and reading and decided to pass that on as a teen services librarian.

“I’d seen what it could be as a teen myself,” she said.

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