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The Price of Oil and Local History

VanAs I was driving down to the Dubois County Museum in Jasper to lead a workshop in strategic planning for local history organizations, I was listening to the radio. The chaos in Libya is causing oil prices to skyrocket. The reports claimed that these unsettling changes in the world may drive gas prices up to $4 or $5 per gallon.

I pulled into a gas station in Martinsville to fill up the IHS van with gas: $55.04 for half a tank. What might an increase in gas prices mean for the work we do in Local History Services? And what will it mean for the historical societies and museums that we work with?

During the workshop, we talked about how to plan given the opportunities and threats that we can’t control: the ever-changing world of social media, the deep funding cuts in local government and the price of gas. Will these local history groups see more visitors, as people look for entertainment and education closer to home, or will they see fewer visitors as schools cut back even further on field trips? Will they be able to harness Facebook, Twitter and the next giant of social media to connect to people near and far, or will they be unable to contend for time attention when their competitors are the History Channel and Who Do You Think You Are? Will they be able to market the “realness” of their authentic photographs and objects with an audience that grew up on reality TV?

While I have worries for our local history groups, every time I get to spend an hour or a day with the people who work in them, I always leave hopeful. They are creative, dedicated and passionate. They are willing to learn and ready to work. They are the backbone of our history community – and they are ready for the challenge – whether they are retired history teachers or recent museum studies graduate students.

I just hope the price of gas won’t prevent me from gaining that inspiration from those face-to-face encounters. Plus, then I would miss out on the local delicacies – like sauerkraut and ribs at Schnitzelbank – that are my other motivation for spending hours in the IHS van. You can’t taste good food via the Internet.

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