Guest Post By Mitchell Polman, originally posted at Understanding Government
When Congress voted to abolish the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1999, America’s public image abroad suffered a significant blow. This decision – inspired by the desire to shrink government and the predominant belief that USIA was an ineffective bureaucracy – closed many USIA-run American libraries and cultural centers around the world that were helping to promote better understanding of American culture and society. These gathering places – located in embassy buildings or in libraries and cultural buildings of host countries – were an important tool for U.S. public diplomacy. They organized English language classes, discussions about American society and politics, films, and other cultural events. Local residents had safe and accessible places to read American books and periodicals, find out about educational exchanges, take U.S. college entrance and language exams, and interact with American citizens.