Amber Matthews: Pushing for change in our public libraries

By Kelly Wang

Amber's hometown: London, Ontario

Western University PhD student Amber Matthews is researching how to apply anti-racisim framework to public library programs and services.

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Amber Matthews is on a challenging mission -- to research how to apply anti-racism framework to public library programs and services, especially those that target youth.

“From what I can tell, I’m one of the few people asking these questions in Canada, so I take it really seriously,” says the second-year PhD student. “I want to make sure I do it right.”

Amber says some of the questions she’s asking are: Why do public libraries offer programs that only reflect certain youths? Why aren’t Black youth being served in the same way as white youth? How are libraries part of a systemic problem that already exists?

“The big question I’m asking is, what’s the point of the public library? Because if it’s to serve those who need it most, then we’re falling way short.”

Before enrolling in Western University’s Library & Information Science (LIS) PhD program, Amber had worked in community and social development for 10 years. “So I had a bit of an understanding of the challenges that racialized communities, especially youths, were facing,” she says.

“I realized that there were some conversations, but not enough on how systemic racism would, or could, happen in public libraries or librarianship in general,” she says. 

"The big question I'm asking is, what's the point of the public library? Because if it's to serve those who need it most, then we're falling way short."

That’s when Amber decided to apply for a PhD so she could further her research.  

“My hypothesis is that we’re only adequately serving a small segment of the youth population,” she explains. “I suggest that we’re underserving a significant portion of racialized youth by not offering resources that are relevant to their needs, identities, cultures and languages.”

Amber says she chose Western University for both her master’s and PhD because it meant being closer to her family and knowing she’ll always have support. 

Fun Fact

Amber used to play roller derby!

“FIMS is really wonderful and I always knew this was the right place to be,” she said. “I also enjoy this program because the level of support from my supervisor committee and faculty members is really special.”

Outside of school, Amber runs literacy and learning programs for children and youth through the Neighbourhood Resource Association of Westminster Park and the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre.

“It’s an amazing experience!” she exclaims. “Just this week, I helped three youths get library cards. It means so much to me.”

Amber anticipates spending the next few years completing her doctorate. In terms of her post-graduation plans, she hopes to continue the conversation on how systemic racism impacts libraries.

The PhD student knows the journey won’t be easy, “but I’m determined to complete my mission,” she says.

Profiles in the Meet Our Students section are written by students in the Master of Media in Journalism & Communication program, who are enrolled in MMJC 9604 - Professional Writing.