The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 33

invited AFSA members who are specialists to share
stories and thoughts on their own experience in a particular
specialty or the career track generally. Here is a selection of the
responses we received. We thank all those who responded.
—Shawn Dorman, Editor
Best. Job. Ever.
By WilliamMiddleton
Information Resource Ocer for
Bangladesh, India, Nepal & Sri Lanka
As with some of the other specialties, IROs often have shorter
Foreign Service careers because prior work experience is a pre-
requisite. As a result, retirements come fast and turnover is brisk,
so there’s a steady stream of new, although not necessarily young,
IROs. With such a small corps—there are only about 30 of us—
sta ng gaps can open up if the roster isn’t refreshed regularly.
As for the work, if public diplomacy is about the creation of
political space, and about in uencing public opinion so that a
country’s leadership has room to move in a new direction, then
IROs’ role in public diplomacy involves developing and support-
ing the platforms—in particular the physical spaces—where that
political space can be created.
IROs perform this alchemy by working with American
Spaces—the generic term for Information Resource Centers,
American Corners, American Centers and Binational Centers.
Of the more than 700 American Spaces around the world, more
than 460 are American Corners. American Corners—partnerships
with host-country institutions in which we provide the books and
computers and the partner provides the sta and space—are only
a decade old, and their rapid growth has had a huge impact on
IRO work.
One gets used to cycles in this business. Twenty years ago, our
marching orders were to convert all our walk-in public facilities—
that is, libraries—to limited access Information Resource Centers,
on the assumption that we could do everything we needed to
do virtually, in uencing public opinion by pushing information
out to hand-picked audiences via the Internet. Some of the more
clever IROs noticed that the Internet had not yet arrived in their
regions, at least not in any meaningful way, and they discretely
deferred closing the library doors.
eir foot-dragging seemed prescient when, about 10 years
later, the pendulum swung back, and elites were no longer our
target audience.
e IRC, a surgical tool, was a poor match for the
younger, wider, deeper audiences that U.S. public diplomacy now
focused on.
Around that same time, an enterprising and visionary IRO
serving in a huge country was tasked with creating programming
platforms outside of the capital city. His solution, the American
Corner, was perfect for reaching this new audience, and the model
proved incredibly popular with posts around the world.
IRO jobs have been shaped by our tools. When IRCs were
our primary tool, our work leaned toward the press side of an
embassy’s public a airs section. With the rise of American
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