Copies of “This Is Chance!” by Jon Mooallem at the Thomas Memorial Library. The Scarborough Public Library, South Portland Public Library, and Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth are collaborating in a Community Read through November, over Zoom. Courtesy photo of Rachel Davis

Residents in Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, and South Portland are invited to share an experience as the communities’ three local libraries are hosting a large-scale book club through November.

The South Portland Public Library, Thomas Memorial Library, and Scarborough Public Library are collaborating in a Community Read of the book, “This Is Chance!” by Jon Mooallem, said Andy Ryer, the programming librarian at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

The book is about the 1964 earthquake in Achorage, Alaska, and how the town responded to the disaster, Ryer said.

From Oct. 5 through Nov. 6, every Monday and Friday from 7 to 8 p.m., the libraries will virtually host a read-aloud over Zoom of the story, going through the entire book.

“We’ll read the book out loud for an hour so anyone who has vision impairment or can’t get a hold of the book or audio book can still access the book,” Ryer said. “We’re also doing the read-aloud as sort of an old-school community building sort of thing. People used to listen to the radio together and read together, so we’re hoping people will come out for that and it will be an unusual communal experience of listening to the same thing together.”

Besides the read-aloud events, each of the three libraries will host a book discussion on different dates, and there will be related programming and discussions, including an author talk, Ryer said. Residents of all three towns can access any of the three libraries’ events.

This is the first time Ryer said he’s heard of the three communities collaborating in a Community Read.

“I’ve wanted to do a Community Read here for a long time, and I’ve wanted to partner with the neighboring libraries in South Portland and Scarborough for a long time, but we never had the right project or the right opportunity and everyone’s had too much going on,” he said. “But during the pandemic it just seemed like all of a sudden we had the time, and I reached out to South Portland and Scarborough and they were really interested.”

Catherine Morrison, adult services manager and assistant director at the Scarborough Public Library, said that the Scarborough staff is thrilled to be working with its fellow libraries in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland.

“Although we all belong to the same library consortium, Minerva, it has been years since we have collaborated on presenting a library program,” she said. “One silver-lining of the movement, necessitated by the pandemic, from in-person events to online events, is that is easier for libraries to collaborate and a larger and wider audience can participate.”

Scarborough Public Library patrons and town residents can email [email protected] with their name and phone number to register, Ryer said. If they would like to register through the South Portland Public Library or the Thomas Memorial Library, they can visit either www.thomasmemoriallibrary.org/community-read-2020 or southportlandlibrary.com/community-read-2020.

Ryer hopes that these virtual events will help people find a sense of community that they may not have realized existed before, he said.

“I’m hoping they’ll meet new people in their own town and neighboring towns and hope that they will have some interactions, conversations, and maybe develop some friendships,” he said.

One of the biggest themes in “This is Chance!” centers around the community of Anchorage, Alaska, which banded together after the earthquake to help one another, Ryer said.

“At the time the assumption was that any time a disaster happened, the general public would just fall into chaos and there would be violence and looting, so that was the theory and what they were afraid of,” he said. “What actually happened, and what’s been proven over and over again ever since then — whenever there’s a natural disaster, hurricane, flood, anything like that, people rise to the occasion and society becomes its best self in those moments.”

The 1964 Alaskan Earthquake had a magnitude of 9.2, said the Thomas Memorial Library website. “This is Chance!” by Jon Mooallem, which the library will be using for its Community Read events with the South Portland Public Library and Scarborough Public Library, is about how the town of Anchorage, Alaska, responded to the aftermath of the disaster. Courtesy photo of Andy Ryer

The Thomas Memorial Library saw a direct correlation between the book and what is happening in 2020, Ryer said.

“It seemed kind of directly related to everything going on right now — the pandemic, and the economy and wildfires, all these crises that are kind of converging,” he said. “The general public has had to figure out ways to deal with this, figuring out how to help one another, help neighbors within their communities.”

Through many of the Thomas Memorial Library’s virtual events, Ryer has seen a new type of collaboration form, he said.

“I’ve been pretty surprised and blown away by how much people have reacted and taken to the programming, like the opportunities to meet your neighbors and kind of hang out and have conversations with them,” he said. “Before the pandemic we had lots of events, but they weren’t interactive. We always had good crowds and people definitely came, but the way people have been interacting since the pandemic has been different. People are way more willing to open up and share, be vulnerable and have real conversations with people. That feels new to me and I’ve been kind of surprised by that.”

Morrison said that the Scarborough Public Library also hopes to introduce members of the public to one another.

“Along with programs on community resilience, kindness, and preparedness, there will be several book discussions where a mix of residents from the three communities will be introduced to each other,” she said. “We hope that this Community Read is just the beginning of future collaborations between the libraries and connections between the residents.”

People who register for the Community Read will be sent a list of dates as they’re added, Ryer said.

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