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Reports from the Field: The Future of Rural Symposium

2018 December 10
by Cindy Fisher

This past November the Texas Tribune held a symposium focused on issues facing rural Texas called The Future of Rural Symposium. State representatives, mayors, superintendents, and leaders from non-profit organizations and corporations came together to discuss issues affecting the lives of rural Texans. While the symposium was physically held at Texas A&M University, the event was also live-streamed for free to ensure those living in rural Texas could participate. The Tribune encouraged people to hold Watch Parties as a way of creating community conversation around the issues discussed.

Working alongside organizers from the Texas Tribune and Educate Texas, TSLAC put out a call to public libraries across the State to host Watch Parties and a number of you answered the call!  Here are a few of the reflections from those of you that hosted watch parties:

Maggie Goodman, Johnson City Library

Turns out the Future of Rural Texas was on that cold, windy day, so we had eight people here, but we were really glad to have had the opportunity for the live event. We started at 11:15 and finished at 3:15, and watched 5 discussions.  We had really good conversations in between!

A couple of take-always were that all rural communities have the same problems, but the solutions are different for each one.  Also, what is good for larger cities is not always good for rural towns. Some panels were better than others. Our community wants the library to be a leader in community relations, listening to different groups to find solutions.

Many people afterward thanked us for having the symposium even if they weren’t here.  We have the website with the archived discussions on our website. We would really like to do this again.  Thanks for the opportunity.

Dianne Connery, Pottsboro Area Library

I’m glad you said no size audience was too small because ours was small!  Our audience included our board president, the city secretary (who is like deputy city manager), and me.

I sent individual invitations to city council members, mayor, city manager, our county commissioner, Texoma Council of Governments, and state representative. Texoma Council of Governments sent it out to one of their contact lists of people/organizations who might be interested. There was an article promoting it in the local newspaper, our website and social media.

Despite the turnout, it benefited the library in several ways.  First, the promotion/invitations sent the signal to government officials that the library is a leader in community planning.  It’s just another way to emphasize our role as a change maker.

The most direct benefit was that it was an opportunity to talk to the city secretary about what the future of Pottsboro (and the library) looks like.  I’ve learned how important relationship building is to the survival of the library, and this was a bonding opportunity to be closer to city decision makers.  Because there were only 3 of us, it became an informal chat session about problems and solutions, and how the library fits into that.

How does the Pottsboro Library fit into that?  During the Infrastructure session, internet connectivity was mentioned.  That is a challenge that our library has created solutions for, and we can do much more.  In the coming year, we will take the lead in organizing community involvement to find solutions that reach more people.  Stay tuned!

Andrea McAdams, Yoakum County Library Plains

It was a small gathering; generally, it was only the staff ducking in, but also the patrons needing the free restroom may have caught some glimpses!

I enjoyed the agenda being given ahead of time so I could target groups with an email of what time that talk of interest would be. We focused in on a lot of groups in our community, but none of them actually made it a point to come in and watch. It was a loss to them, but at least we tried!

From the hosting perspective, it would have been easier to have the stream continually instead of having to re-connect every session. Sometimes we forgot to go in at the appointed time to reload the page.

Events like this would be very helpful for rural communities such as ours. We are 15 minutes from the next state, but that symposium was hours of travel saved just by having it available to our community. I believe libraries hosting programs like this would aid smaller communities in feeling aware of what is going on around the state and giving us a pulse of how other towns work. (I appreciated the mayor of Marfa being on! That is a town similar in size to Plains, and I felt that we were kindred in many ways.)

Thank you for this effort and for getting the word out to communities. To be able to participate in an event like this free of charge gives us opportunities to partner all around Texas!

You can still view the archived panels and keynotes here and find supporting materials on how to hold your own Watch Party and Community Conversation here. (Scroll down past the article).

What issues facing rural Texas do you think are most pressing? Tell us in the comments!

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