It is time for New Haven residents to discover — or perhaps rediscover — Scout, Atticus and their mysterious neighbor Boo Radley.

City residents will be encouraged to read Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” as part of the “Big Read” — a national program that kicks off in New Haven today. Organizers hope city residents will embrace the novel in a community-wide effort to break down barriers and promote understanding between disparate groups. Organizers said which they selected the book for New Haven because it explores racial and class issues.

James Welbourne, the director of the New Haven Public Library, said the “Big Read” responds to an National Endowment for the Arts study showing that adults no longer spend as much time reading because they are too busy. NEA then asked select cities across the country to promote a classic book and encourage everyone in the city to read and discuss it, Welbourne said. New Haven was selected as one of 70 cities to sponsore a “Big Read,” which is funded by the NEA and administered locally by the International Festival of Arts and Ideas and the New Haven Free Public Library.

Welbourne said “To Kill A Mockingbird” was selected for New Haven because it is available in both Spanish and English, because it discusses issues of parenting, and because it addresses class and racial themes. Welbourne said Lee’s treatment of class and race in the novel is especially relevant to the city because of divisions that exist today in New Haven, both between Yale members and New Haven residents and between members of different races.

“They deliberately try to use this common experience of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ to get people to dialogue between differences,” Welbourne said.

In the novel, characters gradually come to realize the humanity of their neighbor, the recluse Boo Radley. New Haven Free Public Library employee Carol Brown said this incident forces readers to become aware of their own and others’ difficulties assimilating into socity.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said the novel’s examination of right and wrong was particularly interesting.

“Hopefully it will be something that many people in the community will want to read,” Clark said. “We’ll just want to wait and see.”

Free copies of “To Kill A Mockingbird” will be distributed to agencies — such as the library’s Bookmobile — that will then distribute them around the community.

Brown will lead a marathon reading of the novel from noon until evening on May 2 at the New Haven library’s main branch. Similar marathons will take place at the city’s five other library branches. Anyone can drop by to take turns reading for 10 minutes and passing the book on — or to just relax and listen to the read-aloud, she said. She said she hopes that many civic, cultural and educational leaders will join local residents at the readings.

The novel will be celebrated through a variety of other ways in New Haven. “To Kill A Mockingbird” will be discussed in book clubs and assigned in schools, and a film adaptation of the novel will be screened around the city. Organizers will also sponsor informal discussions of the book in restaurants around New Haven through a program called “Bookrounds.”

“The Great Gatsby,” “Fahrenheit 451” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” may be used if the program is repeated in coming years, Welbourne said.