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Writers Against Racism: Vanessa Irvin Morris

Vanessa Irvin Morris carries over 20 years’ experience serving in libraries: academic, special, school media, and public. Her research interests include the socio-cultural anthropology of small, urban and rural libraries, literacy practices of public service librarians, and literacy practices enacted and learned in Second Life. 

Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.

I grew up during the 1970’s, during the aftermath of the Civil Rights riots. I remember the 1968 riots and how we moved from North Philadelphia to Camden, to escape the violence. However, we did not escape it, because I remember my father putting a red cloth over our front door to let rioters know we were black and to please not bother us. So that had an impact on me … having to stay away from the windows at night (and we lived in a 2nd floor apartment at that), my father bribing neighborhood guys to watch our house and have our back as me and my sister walked back and forth from school … I learned early on that being black in America is a political identity, inherited from the crib to the grave.

Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?

As a writer, as a librarian, as an educator, I am very sensitive to everyone’s cultural locations. My personal experiences of being left out, left behind, accosted for my skin color (either too light or obviously not white) taught me to be empathetic to the many identities that everyone carries. These experiences continue to fuel questions that I seek to explore that have to do with library service and how educators all around, work with students, patrons, and communities of color. I am interested to learn what do mainstream librarians know about communities who are not of the mainstream? How do they service these communities? How does what they know and don’t know about other cultural experiences translate in the services they provide? Are librarians really helping or hindering when they are not culturally competent? These are the questions that have come as part of the impact that racism has had in my personal, and professional, experiences.

In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?

I am looking at this for my dissertation research as well. I am very interested to explore, observe, and learn how literary genres can be used to foster cultural understanding and personal inquiry for librarians. I think that literature can be used to challenge librarians to be lifelong readers of literature (not just acolytes) and lifelong learners of life, people, and society. This is not to say that librarians are not already doing this, being this. It is to say that there may be a trend in the profession where librarians do not embrace reading literature as a form of continuing education and professional development. I believe we need to always engage in literature throughout our entire careers and lives, so that we have our fingers on the pulse of social issues, trends, and discourse.

Professor Morris is a full-time faculty member at the College of Information Science and Technology at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA (The iSchool at Drexel).


  1. George Edward Stanley says:

    Your research is absolutely fascinating and is an area that certainly needs to be examined thoroughly. Librarians truly are (or certainly should be) on the front lines of W.A.R. I commend you for all you’ve done and for all you’re doing. Thank you, Professor Morris!

  2. I’ve always said, “If you want to spend a lifetime learning, TEACH!” Hats off to Vanessa for being such an enlightened and progressive librarian/educator, and for emphasizing the importance of cultural competence. We need more librarians like you! thanks also to Edi for bringing Vanessa to our attention.

  3. Its nice to know there are librarians and educators who understand the importance of cultural inclusion.

  4. Jo Ann Hernandez says:

    I love librarians. I seek them out whenever I have a question. And most, I appreciate Reforma a group of Latino/a Librarians and friends of Reforma that fight to promote multi-cultural books and programs in libraries. Thanks to all of you that keeps up the good fight.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  5. Monica Hayes says:

    Vaness, I am finishing up my dissertation on cultural competency. I’m happy to share my references if you think that my be helpful to your work. I have found over the years that librarians like bookstore folks can tell you where the books are located, but unless they share an interest they don’t see their role as educating folks about what’s on the shelves. Hopefully your owrk will energize that profession. On-line is wrecking havoc with hard copy. Good luck. Monica

  6. It can be so hard not to expect others to share our perspective. I believe that anyone will read if they find materials they enjoy and relate. So, as a librarian it’s my job to know a variety of books so that I can be that resource Monica is speaking about. It boggles my mind that a librarian would understand the merit of exploring a variety of literature.
    You’ve seen the ugliest side of humanity, yet work so that others won’t have to suffer in the same way. I’ve always admired your work, even before I knew these details. Thanks so much for sharing here!

  7. WOW. The red cloth over the door? So deeply symbolic, like the blood on the lintel for Passover.

    It always astounds me how some of the best history we hear from each other, and the overlapping incidents which create an ethnic identity are always so different from person to person. I would be very much intrigued to read this professor’s writing.

  8. I have spent the last two days with Sonia Nazario, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer for Feature Writing. The book, Enrique’s Journey, is wonderful. I know she would be a wonderful addition to your interviews. I am giving her your information and will recommend she contact you so you can interview her for WAR.

  9. Vanessa Morris says:

    I thank everyone for their comments and support – much appreciated!

    Monica, I would be most interested in your reference list … can you email me please, so that we can connect? I’m at

    I hope to hear from you!

    Edi – you’re wonderful!