Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Outreach to Adjunct Instructors Is Important

sunset reflecting in the Madison building

A while ago I worked as an adjunct librarian, and I remember asking someone at the college what the word 'adjunct' meant. I know I sounded foolish -- I understood the basic definition (temporary and part time), but I was unclear about what the term meant to the wider academic community. I should have looked in the Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition refers to being joined, added, connected, annexed, subordinate, auxiliary, or dependent. In the field of logic, an adjunct is "Anything added to the essence of a thing; an accompanying quality or circumstance; a non-essential attribute."

Being a professor has achieved such status that many highly qualified instructors seem content with prolonged adjunct positions, despite the low pay and lack of benefits.* This may be why community college administrations in New Jersey employed 75 percent of their teachers as adjuncts in 2007.** This compares with 56 percent in higher education statewide. It is also a national trend, although again the word 'adjunct' is not used: The number of full time instructional faculty dropped from 78 percent to 52 percent from 1970 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Like it or not, this contract model of employment seems to be here to stay, and there are plenty of reasons why libraries and librarians should be making an active effort to include adjunct instructor in any outreach efforts:

#1) I already mentioned there are more adjuncts than full-time instructors teaching in community colleges, but in addition adjuncts are often teaching the introductory courses where orientation to an academic library might be particularly valuable for students.

#2) Due to their liminal status, adjuncts need more guidance and orientation than other employees. Information about services and resources they can expect to find through the institution's library should be relevant wherever they ultimately end up.

#3) Many adjuncts return to the same institution year after year. Although it is not entirely dependable, what does the library have to lose by forming a relationship? Specialized work can often be recycled, and it improves the library's reputation as a welcoming, helpful place.

Fourth and finally, it is the right thing to do. Ideally, working in higher education means participating in an intellectual community with the shared goal of teaching and learning. Many instructors are so committed to teaching that they are willing to endure the various indignities that correspond with adjunct status. At the very least, their efforts warrant cooperation from full time staff, faculty, and librarians.


*Or sometimes not -- see the recent stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education "Surge in Adjunct Activism Is Spurred by Bad Economy and Hungry Unions" and "'Chronicle' Survey Yields a Rare Look Into Adjuncts' Work Lives".
** I'm looking at New Jersey's Commission for Higher Education for these and other numbers, and I'm assuming that 'part-time' and 'adjunct' are interchangeable -- the number of full professors who only work part-time is probably negligible.


  1. As a side note -
    Yes, I am slightly concerned that this post will look as dated as this:
    in 10 years...

  2. Point 1 in particular is a really important one. I've found that a lot of full-timers, including librarians, often discount the possibility of programs dealing with those classes precisely because it would involve dealing with adjuncts and they think it would be too difficult to get in touch with them. It's pretty frustrating.

    So there are two questions, really--how to get full-timers (librarians in particular) on board with adjunct outreach, and how this outreach is to be accomplished.