Dispelling Myths: Library of Congress Shares Photos, Books, Film on Pakistan

Posted January 15, 2008 at 4:28pm

Jihad. Terrorist bombing. Women in Islam. Those are just a few of the most popular and controversial inquiries people make about Pakistan at the Library of Congress, according to reference librarian Nuzhat Khatoon.

In light of such inquiries and the current strife in Pakistan — a country whose 60-year independence from England has been marked by

warring factions, four coups, the call for emergency rule by President Pervez Musharraf and the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto — the Library of Congress will host a discussion of its collection on Pakistan Thursday. The event will include a lecture and presentation by Khatoon, featuring several displays from the library’s collection, and a Pakistani film.

Khatoon, who has spent the last 24 years at the Library of Congress and the past five on the South Asia Team focusing on countries such as India and Pakistan, will attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Her goal: to stimulate interest in the collections at the library and show the diversity of materials available to researchers.

The displays, which will be up only for the lecture, will feature books with pictures of women artists in Pakistan. Architectural images will also be on exhibit in “Images of Karachi,” and the pluralism of religion with Buddhist influences will be shown in “Gandharan Art in Pakistan.”

Khatoon also will bring visitors to other library divisions, including photography. The photography area will feature images from the Asian general collection of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy visiting the Taj Mahal in India and of Benazir Bhutto.

[IMGCAP(1)]The film “Pakistani Portrait” will be shown following the lecture. “It will show the social life of Pakistan — architecture, textiles, technology, gardens and women’s dress,” Khatoon said.

The Library has an impressive collection from Pakistan, including more than 3 million books, movies, photographs and sound recordings. The Library started its South Asia collection in 1938 and of late has focused on getting classical material and out-of-print materials on Islam because of heightened emphasis on the religion. The Library also is trying to procure more books, particularly some of the rarer texts in original languages, from its Islamabad offices, which opened in 1965, Khatoon said.

Part of Khatoon’s goal is to help researchers understand how the Library works. As a reference librarian, she answers many inquiries from people completing projects. In recent years, Khatoon, who speaks Hindi, Urdu and Arabic, among other languages, has dug up materials on Islam, terrorist organizations from Kashmir and Pakistan, and how those organizations are financed. One recent inquiry was for the documentary “In the Name of Honor: The Tragedy of Honor Killing in Modern Pakistan,” produced by Jackee Okoli. Khatoon researched rape in Pakistan and helped Okoli find materials that would help her better understand the country’s positions.

Besides world events that have led to an increased interest in Pakistan, Khatoon said there was a large increase in inquiries about Pakistan and India last year because 2007 marked the 60th anniversary of their independence from England.

This isn’t the first time Khatoon has brought collections out for the public. In 2004, she arranged a similar display on India that garnered attention from embassy and public officials interested in the country.

“I’d like to create a sort of interest for our collections. For people to see it’s not just books, but also movies and photos,” Khatoon said.

The lecture and tour will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.