Monday, April 29, 2013

The Adjunctification of Academic Librarianship

Much ink has been spilled talking about the future of libraries, but comparatively little attention has been paid to the future of staffing libraries, outside of Jeff Trzeciak's infamous recommendation to hire PhDs as opposed to librarians credentialed with Masters of Library and Information Science degrees. What is happening at my place of work suggests that perhaps we should be paying more attention to this aspect of potential library futures.
As director of the library, I'm culpable in this exercise. Trzeciak proposed to take advantage of a market efficiency, an excess supply of labor on the PhD market, and I am doing the same for MLIS holders. I have advocated for more full-time staff, paraprofessional and credentialed librarians, but due to an operating budget of $35 million (that's for the university, total, per year), my inability to successfully lobby the administration (though I'm unclear if I could successfully do so), and the political economy of permanent crisis in higher education, I find myself here, propagating a system I hate. There are two full-time staff and six part-time staff, two of which are in MLIS programs. Four are part-time librarians. They are, in short, adjunct librarians. This future of academic libraries may be coming to a university or college near you.

Why call these part-time staff adjunct librarians? Because when the only tool administration has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Adjuncts are a solution to a problem in academic departments. They are now a solution in the library. And to paraphrase Tarak Barkawi, I am in part to blame for administering and legitimating this "Thatcherite budget-cutting exercise."

The only way, it seems, I can staff a library, is to exploit the surplus labor on MLIS job market. That is frustrating. That is sad. That is depressing. And I don't know what to do about it. I would love to make the part-time staff full-time, but clearly that is not going to happen any time soon here. In the meantime, part-time staff get a paycheck, but no benefits, and some experience. We get labor. But that labor is tenuous. Last week two of these staff members gave their notice. One librarian has moved on to a full-time job, six months after receiving a Masters degree. Another is leaving to focus on the final semester of an MLIS program, and the frantic job hunt that goes with it. And for us, the cycle begins anew. I wish I knew how to stop it.


  1. In the late 80s managers in the Air Force noticed the numbers doing 4 years & out were on the rise. They looked at the expense of training new personnel & came up with a retention bonus that would get people to re-enlist.
    You can't do the same, but you can determine how much it costs to train these new staff. If the loss is high enough, you may be able to convince management that the costs involved in benefits is actually better in the long run.

    1. Funny you should mention that, since it's the angle I'll be using in my next meeting with the Provost. I don't think it will work, but...

  2. Hi Jacob,

    Just a data point for you. I am a (full time, continuing) librarian at McMaster University, which is where Jeff Trzeciak did his business from 2006-2012. While it is true that we started with over 30 full time librarians and, at our lowest ebb, had less than 10, I think it's a good thing to note here that in the time since he's been gone we have hired two full-time librarians and have three more full-time librarian positions in processing. All of this happened almost immediately after he left, and before we've hired a permanent replacement for Trzeciak's position -- a sign to me that our administration ultimately did not believe in the value of replacing MLSs with postdocs.

    In addition, I believe that at Trzeciak's current library he has hired full-time MLS positions also, so it's doubtful as to whether even *he* believed what he was putting forth.