Local librarians are on a crusade to keep teenagers reading with next week's Teen Read Week, a national literacy initiative.
Held every year during the third week in October, Teen Read Week aims to encourage teens to "Read for the Fun of it," by hosting activities and events geared to get teens motivated to read.
"People should be reading all through their life," said Dan Owens, Walton County library director. "But teenagers may have other things in their life that may be distracting."
Owens and fellow librarians aren't picky about where or what teens read or even the format.
"Reading is important — whether they go online and read a newspaper article, big book or little book," he said.
This year's theme is “Seek the Unknown at Your Library,” which is meant to inspire young readers to pick up something new.
"They're encouraged to read other things," Owens explains. "Some teens are reading books other than 'Harry Potter.' " They're picking up Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' and works by [Albert] Camus."
Walton County libraries have a total of 41,165 active library cards. Only 1,508 of them belong to teenage readers. However, Linda Thompson at the Coastal Branch Library said she's seen an increased interest from young readers at the South Walton library throughout the past few years thanks to programs and activities geared toward interacting with local youth.
"Our library clerk Shirles Johnson has encouraged young people to visit the library through activities such as the summer reading program, hosting a sock drive for area nursing homes, book drives for children in the hospital and coat drives for local homeless children," Thompson said. "Her thought was to get them working toward projects that help the community."
For Teen Read Week, Coastal Branch Library is inviting local teens to create a poster based on their favorite book. Paper and arts supplies are available at the library. All poster artists will be entered in a drawing for a Barnes & Noble gift certificate.
"It's important for teens to see other teens reading and to set an example for younger kids," Thompson said.
Over in North Walton County, the local library isn't just another site for Teen Read Week, but a part of Florida's history. During the week, the DeFuniak Springs branch will also host drawings for book store gift cards.
The DeFuniak Springs Library, built in 1886, is the oldest continuously used library in the state.
"St. Augustine has us beat by a few years for oldest library," Owens said.
As manager of the DeFuniak Springs Library, Owens said the library's history has helped increase its patronage over the years.
"We've had students in Central Florida contact us for a school project; people will look it up and stop in to see what it looks like," he said.
When the library first opened in July 1887, it had only a dozen or so books. Today, it has more than 50,000 items. Libraries aren't just book lenders, they can be a portal to the past.
"It's funny — there's a photograph of the library from 1891 and in front of the library is a bush about 3-feet high," Owens said. "It was an oak tree, and now, it's massive."
While Teen Read Week is primarily to encourage reading, librarians relish the opportunity to raise awareness to all that local libraries offer.
"The whole idea is get teenagers interested in reading," said Thompson. "But it's also important that young people have fun and are comfortable at the library."