There is a vast difference between Pakistani and American societies in nearly all walks of life. However, we can find some commonalities as human nature remains the same, in terms of reacting over situations, quest for knowledge and desire to know more about the world and beyond. These human traits are found in every society irrespective of their nature of socio-economic and political structures. For ten days in July of this year, as a team leader of a project titled “Assimilation Challenges of Pakistani Diaspora in United States” under “GLCA-Library of Congress Faculty-Student Research Program”, I visited Library of Congress (LOC), in Washington D.C. Apart from understanding the research techniques required to utilise the rich resources available in various sections of the library, my intention was to compare and contrast the social behaviours and academic environment of the host and home countries. When I first entered the building of LOC, I was not only thrilled by the artistic interior but also excited by its mesmerising academic environment. My first encounter there was with the library staff, who guided me through various stages of attaining the membership. I was delighted to see fresh and joyful faces at the information desk of Jefferson building (one of the three buildings). The feature which inspired me most during my first interaction was the gender balance of the staff. The senior female staff members were well-versed in their assigned task and professionally dealt with the responsibilities of the job. I instantly compared this with an average old woman of my country, who with advancement of age lacks energy, either because of unattended diseases at early stage or malnutrition. Another reason of their non-participatory role outside home is that the socio-cultural set-up of our society emphasises that a senior female citizen should only perform religious rituals, confining their activities within the house hold chores.
During first two days, I spent most of the time in the Asian Reading room as my research was on Pakistani community living in the United States. However, while finding the material from LOC Online Catalogue, I noticed that the library was well-equipped with vast material on different topics in various languages. Interestingly only about 5% of the LOC’s complete holdings are in digital form. Before arriving at LOC, I was informed that the vast nature of resources at library often distract the researcher from their focus. Conscious of the fact, I prepared a detailed research manual of my topic and communicated in advance with the assigned librarian, which helped me to organize my search at different sections of the library. At the same time, my objective was to even visit those collections of the library, which might not have been directly useful for my chosen area of research. Therefore, I planned my 9 days of research to explore those sections in Jefferson and Madison building, which were helpful for my research. Apart from scanning 37 requested books on my topic in the main reading hall of LOC, I spent time in three main reading rooms; Newspapers and Periodicals section, Prints and Photographs division and Motion Pictures & Television section. Although, there are 24 reading rooms in Jefferson, Madison and Adams buildings of LOC, the reason to select these sections after the tutorial by LOC staff was the unique nature of on-site accessible resources of these reading rooms. Each section has numerous online databases, which a researcher can select from as per the nature of the study. After discussing the topic with the librarian, I was able to search and download the material from the relevant databases of mentioned sections, which were otherwise inaccessible off-site.
The books which directly dealt with my research topic were, “Portrait of a giving Community: Philanthropy by the Pakistani-American Diaspora”, “ Pakistanis in Michigan: A Study of Third Culture and Acculturation” and “Geographies of Muslim Identities: Diaspora, Gender and Belonging”. In Motion Pictures and Television section, I found a drama “Green Card”, broadcasted on Pakistan Television in 1991. It was about an American woman, married to a Pakistani man but because of huge cultural differences between the two societies, she faced a lot of difficulties. Another interesting documentary, which inspired me was “ Point of Attack”, based on post 9/11 conditions of Pakistani immigrants in United States. In Newspapers and Periodicals section, the most interesting on-site database was “Pro-Quest Historical Newspapers”, which helped me to find out the related news, articles, and editorials from 2001 to 2010.
To me, my visit to Washington, D.C in United States was both, social and academic. On one side, it provided me an opportunity to use vast resources of LOC, while on the other it enabled me to visit significant nearby places. Another thing which inspired me most was the behaviour this developed nation has towards life. Women with their toddlers were on the streets crossing the roads, with ease. Pregnant women were walking freely and without fear of being hit and harassed in all kinds of dresses. As a researcher on women rights, I immediately compared them with the women of my country. In my country, once a woman is pregnant, she is treated differently. If I say “abnormally”, then it will not be wrong either. Every member of the family reinforces that a pregnant woman’s mobility should be restricted. For a mother of a toddler, even for educated and professional women, going overseas for professional and academic pursuits is usually out of the question. If they succeed to break these stereotypes, even then they are tagged with labels like “selfish” and social structures pose a stiff hindrance to her independent postures.
Concluding my fruitful experience at LOC, I will say that as a researcher, apart from enhancing my horizon of learning, this visit enabled me to compare and contrast the facilities as well as attitudes of the two divergent societies. After this exposure, as a social scientist, I am convinced that my countrymen have the capability to come at par with international academic standards once they become aware of modern techniques and approaches as adopted by the developed countries like the United States.