I follow the energy markets closely, and recently there have been predictions of $250 a barrel oil in 2009 and $400 a barrel oil in 2018.
What does this have to do with ALA? Nothing, if ALA functioned effectively as a virtual organization that wasn't dependent on physical travel. Everything, if it is not.
Already we see airlines consolidating, cutting routes, and raising ticket and auxiliary prices. That's with oil at about $136 a barrel. Imagine if it were $250 a barrel or $400 a barrel. Impossible? Unlikely? Maybe, but in early 2007 it was $60 a barrel, and predictions of $100 a barrel met with incredulity.
We can hope that oil prices stabilize or decline, but it may be prudent to plan for what to do if they do not.
Would ALA function well if its committee members were increasingly unable to attend meetings? Would the organization's current awareness and personal networking functions that physical conferences support work if general members were increasingly unable to attend them?
Ask yourself this: If you never attended ALA conferences, how would the organization look to you? Would you feel that you could meaningfully participate in it? Would you feel that it had added value as an important source of current information, personal networking, and professional development?
Perhaps. In recent years, ALA has make progress in creating a more useful digital presence with efforts like virtual committee members, blogs, wikis, and other tools. This is commendable progress; however, much remains to be done. Do virtual committee members interact with physical committee members in real-time meetings? Is there meaningful non-conference committee digital interaction? Are conference presentations and committee meeting sessions available to ALA members in MP3 and digital video formats? Are blogs open to all potential member authors through self-initiated registration procedures? Are wikis dynamic information exchange mechanisms or primarily dull descriptive tools for disseminating information about ALA and its divisions? Is social network software provided to connect members with each other, committee members, and ALA officers? Is there is a true sense of a vibrant digital community?
Although its not perfect, the EDUCAUSE CONNECT community points in the direction of what could be.
Of course, energy markets are volatile, prices could drop, and all could be well for a while, but there is little to suggest at the current time that the long-term prospects for cheap energy are good. Thinking the unthinkable about reinventing ALA as a digital community might not be a bad idea as a contingency plan, and it might not be a bad idea in any case.