Andy Ryer, community engagement manager at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, says libraries are in a prime position to help combat social isolation. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Five area libraries hope to get Mainers engaged in some brief but meaningful conversations next week via Zoom in an effort to prevent wintertime social isolation and promote community connections.

Their new program, “Big Conversations in 10 Short Minutes,” will link up people who otherwise might not have met each other for friendly chats with topic prompts to guide them. It will take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18.

Andy Ryer, community engagement manager at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, recruited librarians from Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland and the Scarborough and Windham public libraries to participate. Attendees can join through any of the five libraries.

“The epidemic of loneliness is a big issue, and libraries can and should be playing a big role in addressing that,” Ryer said.

Elsa Rowe, community engagement manager for Scarborough Public Library, said she hopes Big Conversations can cultivate “a little pocket of meaning” for community members.

“We’re hoping that this becomes a regular winter thing,” Rowe said. “In the winter, we all reach this point where we don’t want to leave our house … but there’s this conflicting feeling of needing human contact.”


Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth will be among the five area libraries hosting the online “Big Conversations” next week. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

The Zoom sessions will include two non-political conversation prompts and participants will cycle through three different one-on-one conversations in breakout sessions. One prompt will be more philosophical, Rowe said, and one will be lighter, so those attending can choose whatever speaks most to them and the experience they’re looking for.

“Some people enjoy talking about the deep meaning of life, and some want to tell an anecdote. We want an option for both of those,” she said. “We’re hoping we get a multi-age and multi-cultural experience, because that’s always more interesting.”

The intention is to facilitate a moment of connection with someone you may not otherwise have talked to or gotten to know.

“In the winter when you’re not going out, it’s harder to have those moments,” she said. “For people who are isolated and don’t drive or live alone, this is some extra facilitated social time.”

The idea for Big Conversations in 10 Minutes came out of efforts by Ryer and other Maine libraries to find ways to broaden opportunities for connection and socializing, he said.

“There are libraries in pretty much any town, and they’re places that are non-partisan and there’s no barrier to entry or entrance fees. There are so few remaining places in society that you don’t have to pay for,” he said.


“Libraries are open long hours, and right there in the community,” he said, providing a perfect opportunity to bring a diverse group of people together.

“Librarians are excited to be connecting people, so it’s a natural fit,” he said.

Technology makes those connections easier, he said. While some people may be hesitant about Zoom, he hopes they’ll give Big Conversations a chance.

“I think people who don’t like it haven’t been to the right Zooms. We try to make it a really good experience,” he said.

“The more people that join us, the more interesting it will be,” Rowe said.

Those interested can register through any of the five libraries, including at Participants do not need to be library members in order to join.

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