The Scarborough Public Library is one of several Maine libraries collaborating to present “Big Conversations in 10 Short Minutes.”  The program, designed to combat winter loneliness and social isolation, was launched Jan. 18, with librarians from Curtis Memorial, Prince Memorial, Scarborough Public, and Windham Public libraries joining forces. The program initiated by Andy Ryer, Community Engagement manager of Thomas Memorial Library, will extend through March.

Elsa Rowe, Community Engagement manager at Scarborough Public Library, stressed the urgency of addressing loneliness, “We are in an epidemic of loneliness. People need people, especially in the winter when we are isolated because of illness, darkness, or icy roads.”

Ryer said the sessions will be available over Zoom. “It is totally accessible to anyone who has a computer or the internet. People don’t have to get out of the house.”

Rowe said the Zoom sessions consist of three rounds of 10-minute conversations initiated by light and philosophical questions. Breakout rooms facilitate one-on-one discussions, allowing participants to choose topics organically. Subjects discussed in the breakout sessions include questions such as, “Do you believe in New Year’s resolutions and if so, do you have any for this year?” and “When do we humans become old?”

The first session exceeded expectations Rowe said, with 39 participating. Participants expressed their positive experience with the program.

One such participant was Scarborough Public Library patron Guy Boucher who emailed a glowing review of the first event. “Thank you for your part in arranging a magnificent event,” Boucher wrote, to the library. “You all created an amazing experience for not just me, from my observations so many people seemed to have enjoyed this event also. I seriously appreciate this Big Conversation Group, and in my heart of hearts, I believe that this event will grow in every way. We live in a time where loneliness is an endemic/pandemic, per the CDC, and I can see this, for many to have meaningful & healthy conversations that help rekindle my internal fire, and a Spirit of feeling fully alive. Thank you very much for all of the team’s incredible insight to put in place this wonderful journey in the sharing of our humanness!”


Like Boucher, many who attended had a great time, Ryer said. “I was pretty blown away by how positive the whole event was. I tend to be the type of person that’s never satisfied with anything that I’ve done, and I’m always just sort of like we could do better, but I went home and said ‘that was totally a success!’” said Ryer. He said the event was joyful. “You could see it on people’s faces, hear it in the things people said, and read what they said in emails after the fact.”

The format of short, focused conversations is meant to immerse participants in meaningful discussions. Rowe said “One of the comments, that others agreed with, is that the format really jumps you into a real conversation pretty quickly.” The idea of speed conversations and friending is new to most of the people who attended,” he said.. “It is just a very unusual experience as you are just dropped into a conversation about semi-deep topics without doing any introductory small talk.”

Rowe said there was a broad spectrum of participants in terms of age, gender, and interests. To ensure inclusivity, clear communication is emphasized, especially for those with English as a second language. To avoid conflicts, politics and religion are not to be discussed. “Not everyone liked our rule about leaving religion and politics out of the conversations” Rowe said, “but we’re sticking with that rule regardless.”

“Friendship is a lot like dating. You need to put yourself out there, and the more opportunities to meet people who you have things in common with, the more likely you will create some friendships,” Rowe said. Without the Big Conversations, she would have probably been watching TV, reading a book or folding laundry, instead of having three great conversations with interesting people.

Ryer emphasized the potential impact of the event, “The fact that libraries are joining in from other areas indicates the potential of this initiative.” He said the success of the first session sets a positive tone for the future.

Rowe said one of the reasons that libraries are so crucial in addressing loneliness is how easily accessible they are. Rowe said libraries are free, library cards are free, and their doors are open to all people.


The next event will be hosted by Curtis Memorial Library, Falmouth Memorial Library, Kennebunk Library, Prince Memorial Library, Scarborough Public Library, Thomas Memorial Library, Walker Memorial Library, and Windham Public Library on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

“The credit for the idea goes to Andy Ryer, but the fleshing out of the concept and coming up with the guidelines, the questions, the logo, the advertising, etc, was a group effort,” Rowe said. But Ryer said it was collaborating with one of his co-worker Kate that gave birth to the idea. He said she had the idea of doing a speed conservation, like speed dating, but just for conversation. “It was just like a crazy idea; she came up with and shared. And I thought it was really cool,” Ryer said.

Upcoming dates for Big Conversations are Feb. 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and March 16, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

All can participate, the only requirement is igning up with an email address. People can sign up any of the participating libraries or visit for more information.


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