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Addressing collegiate adjunct faculty information needs.


This essay examines the research and professional needs of academic adjunct faculty, and posits how academic and public librarians might best address those needs. After a brief discussion of the current state of the academic teaching profession, the essay presents a profile of adjunct faculty. The essay then discusses how librarians can meet the information needs of adjunct faculty in regards to their professional and career development.


Much has been written in the past few decades about the difficulties posed at academic institutions for many adjunct faculty, those who are temporary, non-tenure track, and below full-time status. Adjunct faculty often receive no benefits such as health insurance, are allowed to teach only a certain number of courses per term, have no representation at department meetings, and are not guaranteed classes from one semester to the next (Leatherman, 1999; AAUP, 1997; Gappa and Leslie, 1993; Wallace, 1984). Yet, for a number of years, statistics have consistently shown that the rate of adjunct faculty has steadily risen, while the rate of full-time faculty teaching has steadily declined. A 1999 Modern Language Association (MLA) report on part-time faculty members, for example, found that in English departments alone, the number of part- to full-timers was oftentimes 1.5 to 1 or higher. Salaries for part-time instructors, meanwhile, have been consistently low over the past few decades, particularly in the last several years. While many writers and organizations such as the American Association of University Professors and Modern Language Association have addressed issues regarding the decreasing number of tenure-track positions available and adjunct faculty rights, few writers have offered a profile of adjunct faculty or addressed how their research, teaching, and job status needs can be met.

My objective in this paper is not to serve as an advocate for the rights of adjunct instructors or critique institutions. Rather, I will examine how librarians--both public and academic--have addressed how best to meet the professional and career information needs of adjunct faculty and offer further insights into other ways such needs can be addressed. I will begin with a discussion of who comprises "adjunct faculty," including what many adjunct faculty want from their jobs. Before we can address information needs, we need to better understand who adjunct faculty are exactly. I will then discuss how librarians have tried to address the research and job needs of this group, and offer suggestions on what they can do to work with and for this group. Adjunct faculty are often characterized as post-graduate students who are unable to find a full-time tenure-track teaching job and who are generally unhappy and dissatisfied with their jobs and status (Feldman and Turnley, 2001). Examining the profile of adjunct faculty more closely, however, shows both characteristics to be not always the case. Howard Tuckman, in a 1978 article in the AAUP Bulletin, categorized part-time teachers into six groups:

* Semi-retireds: Former full-time academics or professionals who are not concerned about future prospects. This group teaches mainly for additional income in their retirement years.

* Graduate students: Those teaching to gain experience and augment income.

* Hopeful full-timers: Those who cannot find full-time academic positions but want them. This group includes those who worked part-time at more than one institution.

* Full-mooners: Those who hold another primary job of at least 35 hours a week, and spend relatively little time preparing lectures and other teaching activities. This segment also includes tenured faculty teaching course overloads.

* Homeworkers: Those who work part-time because they care for children or other relatives.

* Part-mooners: Those who work part-time in one academic institution while holding a second job of fewer than 35 hours a week.

* Part-unknowners: Part-time faculty whose reasons for teaching part-time are unknown.

Graduate students, thus, represent just one segment of adjunct faculty; others do not seek a fulltime teaching career, and prefer to work only part-time. Gappa and Leslie (1993), for example, in their research of universities in the United States and Canada found that some teachers, who fall under Tuckman's "semi-retired" group, enjoy teaching part time after having retired from a previous career; others under the categories of "full-mooners" and "homeworkers" also enjoyed their part-time status (p. 50). Suzanne Clery, in her 2001 report for the NEA, also found job satisfaction to be present for some. According to her findings, 76 percent of part-time faculty members stated that they preferred to be part-time, and 44 percent of part-time faculty reported being "very satisfied" with their positions overall. A research study conducted by Daniel Feldman and William Turnley further corroborates these researchers' findings (2001). They found that many adjunct faculty appreciated having a flexible schedule, especially for dual-career couples and professionals with young children. Many also cited as an advantage the opportunity to work with a diverse set of colleagues, which helped them stay up to date in their professions and allowed for social interaction. Many were pleased with the amount of autonomy they had in their jobs and the amount of challenge to their work. They further found that late-career adjunct faculty, or semi-retireds, liked the aspect of just teaching and not having to get involved in departmental politics and other extra commitments (p. 11).

However, the majority of part-time faculty, according researchers such as Gappa and Leslie, Clery, and most recently, the American Association of University Professors (1997), fall under what Tuckman characterizes as "hopeful full-timers." Gappa and Leslie found that over 70 percent of male and female part-time instructors were married, which resulted in an inability to move somewhere else (1993, p. 26). Part-time instructors were also many times overly qualified for their teaching position, with over twenty-five percent holding doctoral degrees, publishing, and presenting papers at conferences (pp. 31-33). One-third of part-time faculty members, according to Clery, considered their part-time position to be their primary employer; twenty-two percent of them did not have any other employment (2001, p. 6). Fifty-two percent of part-time instructors were under 35 years of age, and the majority of part-time instructors were women--45.5 percent to 34.3 percent male (p. l). Although 76 percent said that they preferred to be part-time, many of them also said that they would accept a full-time position if one became available. In fact, fifty-eight percent of part-time faculty said they were part-time because full-time positions were not available (p. 6).

These numbers suggest that a considerable number of adjunct faculty are teaching at a time in their lives when they may be looking for full-time employment. Many may be paid wages that do not reflect their educational background and expertise, wages that are apparently what they chiefly rely on to make a living. Furthermore, these numbers suggest that women are largely the ones exploited by virtue of being "adjunct." Overall, a considerable number of adjunct faculty hold advanced degrees, are relatively young, dedicated teachers and researchers, and do want a full-time teaching job. Many accept their status out of love of teaching and passion for higher learning.

Given the general state of the profession for adjunct faculty, with its low pay, tenuous job security, low or no benefits, and relative poor working conditions, one might assume that the best way to meet the needs of adjunct faculty would be to help them find other employment. Indeed, Shelly Schwartz, in an article for "CNN Money" (Sept. 1, 2000) reports that many English majors are defecting to the business world, taking jobs in such sectors as insurance, real estate, and securities industries (2000, p. 1). However, as the aforementioned researchers' findings show, some people prefer adjunct teaching. Librarians could serve this populace by suggesting resources and texts that concern teaching pedagogy, or how to teach certain subjects or books, such as the Approaches to Teaching X series published by the modern Language Association. There are also a number of books that discuss how best to teach reading and writing, such as works by compositionists Peter Elbow and Donald Murray.

A number of librarian scholars have addressed how best to meet the needs of college educators. Scott Stebelman et al discuss in their article "Improving library relations with the faculty and university administrators: The role of the faculty outreach librarian" (March 1999) a study they conducted at George Washington University regarding faculty's use of the internet and other technologies academic libraries offer. They found that many faculty members don't make use of services the library has to offer because they do not know much about them. Judy Reynolds (1995) notes from her research that scholars in the humanities tend to work alone, and in so doing rely on browsing, using books, older materials, and their own personal collections. Humanists, she claims, do not heavily use databases, due to such factors as inadequate staffs, charging for searches, inadequacy of database coverage, and lack of retrospective coverage (p. 73). She advocates better indexing standards for electronic resources to better address the information needs and behaviors of all humanists (p. 76).

Stebelman et al (1999) advocate that librarians become more active in reaching out to faculty by conducting workshops, and advertising them through e-mail, fliers, brown-bag lunches, campus newsletters, and listserv postings. Donald Frank et al, in their article "Information consulting: The key to success in academic libraries" (March 2001), further advocate doing away with "traditional liaison programs," which they claim are "too passive and lack impact," and instead implementing "information consulting," in which individual librarians would be partners with individual faculty. As they put it, "Consulting gets librarians out of the library and into the academy" (p. 93). Julie Yang further advocates this aggressive approach to reach out to "insular" academic teachers in her article with Don Frank, titled "Working effectively with scholars: A key to academic library success" (Summer 1999). The writers claim that, because interdisciplinary research is growing "dramatically," librarians should be more forceful in working with scholars through helping them in areas such as: locating organizing, and interpreting relevant information; negotiating and resolving complex problems and issues; and collaborating with faculty to create information packages to meet specific needs (p. 10).

Stebelman et al (1999) report that George Washington University did, in fact, conduct workshops for faculty on how to use technology and library services for their teaching, but the majority of attendees were adjunct faculty and repeat attendees who came of their own volition, not full-time instructors (p 128). This observation shows that many adjunct faculty do care about teaching and improving their expertise. Given that many adjunct faculty hold advanced degrees and publish, they benefit just as much as full-time instructors from librarian assistance in learning about updates and search strategies on library databases and electronic resources, the condition of microforms and manuscripts, microform readers themselves, and indexes and catalogs.

For those adjunct faculty who do want a better job, suggestions on how to make their job better, or information on how to get a tenure-track position, librarians can offer a number of resources, such as Basalla and Debelius's text "So What Are You Going to Do with That?": A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s (2001); Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick's The Academic Job Search Handbook (2nd ed., 1996); Loraine Blaxter, Christina Hughes, and Malcom Tight's the Academic Career Handbook (1998); and Robert Menges et al's Faculty in New Jobs: A Guide to Settling In, Becoming Established, and Building Institutional Support (1999). All of these texts offer in varying ways advice on where to look for full-time teaching jobs, how to write an effective curriculum vitae, what to do to make oneself professionally attractive, how to network, and how to interview.


Meeting the needs of adjunct faculty requires first avoiding generalizing about who they are, and second, understanding just what exactly each wants--whether it is information on jobs, new careers, how to improve their jobs, and/or how to do better at their jobs. It is important not to assume that all adjunct faculty want better wages, working conditions, or benefits. It is likewise important not to assume that all adjunct faculty are content with their situations. Academic libraries should provide material for adjunct faculty if they wish for information on faculty rights, current teaching and research methodology, and alternatives to other jobs or careers. Adjunct teachers are, by and large, highly educated, knowledgeable, and thoughtful people. Librarians can help them by acting as colleagues and guides. Given the profile presented in this essay, adjuncts can find their jobs fulfilling and can recognize other possibilities available to them; librarians can facilitate both processes.


American Association of University Professors. (September 26-28, 1997). Statement from the conference on the growing use of part-time and adjunct faculty. Washington, D.C.

Basalla, S. & Debelius, M. (2001). "So What Are You Going to Do with That?": A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s. Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux.

Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, Malcom (1998). The Academic Career Handbook. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Clery, S. (September 2001). Update: Part-time faculty. NEA Higher Education Research Center 7 (4), pp. 1-8.

Feldman, D. & Turnley, W.H. (Fall 2001). A field study of adjunct faculty: The impact of career stage on reactions to non-tenure-track jobs. Journal of Career Development 28(1), pp. 1-16.

Folster, M.B. (1995). Information seeking patterns: Social sciences. The reference librarian (49/50), p. 83-93.

Frank, D.G., Raschke, G.K., Wood, J., & Yang, J.Z. (March 2001). Information consulting: The key to success in academic libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship 27(2), 90-96.

Gappa, J.M. & Leslie, D.W. (1993). The invisible faculty: Improving the status of part-timers in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Gappa, J.M. (1984). Part-time faculty: Higher education at a crossroads (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Research Report No. 3). Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Heiberger, M.M. & Vick, J.M. (2nd edition, 1996). The Academic Job Search Handbook. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Leatherman, C. (July 30, 1999). Education Department report says adjuncts now make up nearly half the professoriate. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: The Faculty, p. A18.

Menges, R.J. et. al. (1999). Faculty in new jobs: A guide to settling in, becoming established, and building institutional support. New York: Jossey-Bass (A Wiley Company). Modern Language Association (1999). "1999 MLA Survey on Part-Time Faculty Members."

Reynolds, J. (1995). A brave new world: User studies in the humanities enter the electronic age. The reference librarian (49/50), 61-81.

Schwartz, S.K. (Sept. 1, 2000). English majors remain low-paid, but many defect into the business world. New York: CNN.fn

Smallwood, S. (January 5, 2001). MLA survey reveals wide discrepancy in part-time faculty members' earnings. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A15.

Stebelman, S., Siggins, J., Nutty, D., & Long, C. (March 1999). Improving library relations with the faculty and university administrators: The role of the faculty outreach librarian. College and research libraries 60 (2), 121-130.

Tuckman, H.P. (1978, December). Who is part-time in academe. AAUP Bulletin, 64, 305-315.

Wallace, M.E. (1984). Part-time academic employment in the humanities. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

Wiberley, S.E. & Jones, W.G. (November 1989). Patterns of information seeking in the humanities. College and Research Libraries 50(6), 638-645

Yang, J. & Frank, D. (Summer 1999). Working effectively with scholars: A key to academic library success. Georgia Library Quarterly 36(2), 9-12.

Richard Wisneski, Kent State University

After receiving his doctorate in early American literature from Michigan State University in 1997 and teaching English for seven years, Richard Wisneski has returned to school, where he is pursuing a master's in library science degree.
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Author:Wisneski, Richard
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2003
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