Jessica Pryde On Diversifying Your Career and Your Bookshelf

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“I definitely recommend trying things out – take the classes that you’re interested in, do various types of internships if you can afford it. Get certain jobs if you can’t, and just sort of let your interests take you. You could find something perfect for you that you just didn’t expect.”

Jessica Pryde, ‘09 MLIS
Tucson, AZ 

When Jessica Pryde first went to the iSchool, her path had seemed certain: she was going to be an academic librarian. But her experience, both through the Masters of Library and Information Science program and assistantships helped change and shift that idea. 

Jessica started her academic career with no small amount of ambition, entering Washington University in St. Louis for their Interdisciplinary Project in Humanities. 

For the uninitiated, this program is a highly focused academic preparation program for students looking to continue their education in graduate school, and many of Jessica’s cohort have gone on to earn their PhDs. But for Jessica, it was in this program that she realized her academic goals had begun to change. 

“I ended up realizing that I really like doing all of this research, so one of my friends was like, ‘That’s a librarian, that’s what they do.’” 

Thanks to her friend’s suggestion, Jessica wound up getting a job at her campus’s brand new digital library, and from there, her path toward librarianship was set. 

Jessica’s Path to Librarianship 

Jessica moved to San José after graduating from Washington University and began taking hybrid courses while working in different student assistantships on campus. 

“[The opportunity to work and do school on campus] was a very hands-on experience for me. The experience was great because I got to apply what I was learning on-site, even when I wasn’t taking on-site classes.” 

Having started her Masters of Library and Information Science journey immediately after completing her undergraduate degree, Jessica started with the intent of getting a second master’s degree in order to become an academic librarian — but soon realized that she needed to take a break from school after getting her initial MLIS degree. She instead started working at a high school library in DC, where she had the opportunity to immediately apply her coursework to weed out old books and build out the new high school library collection. 

Jessica now works for Pima County Public Library, primarily in electronic services. Some of what she does today, she says, she learned more about in her graduate assistantships than in the classroom. 

While her boss is in charge of the actual library website, Jessica helps with anything and everything “online services” - from being the contact person for troubleshooting to interacting with library vendors (and testing products), all the way to helping show library patrons how to use Overdrive or online databases. Because of her behind-the-scenes library work, Jessica is able to work remotely, with a team of six other marketing and communications library professionals. What it means to be a librarian is changing all the time, and Jessica’s role reflects that. 

Wearing Many Professional Hats 

Thanks in part to Jessica’s work-from-home position, she is able to wear many hats – working on the side as a writer and podcaster.  

Finding that work-life balance, on the other hand, maybe a little trickier. 

“It’s hard to balance because I do my best not to do any of my other stuff during the workday,” she explained, “A lot of the writing for Book Riot [involves] staying on top of what is happening so that I can do the podcast and then finding time to work on my own writing and all of that stuff really just requires finding dedicated time outside of the workday, and I know that there are people who are like all about the 5 am writers club. That isn’t me.” 

Instead, Jessica has found that carving out time on the weekends with a friend is her favorite way to ensure she gets some writing done, while podcasting tends to be pushed to weeknights. The rest of her free time is devoted to reading. 

On top of her writing for Book Riot and her podcast, Jessica gets to help with reader’s advisory – and while she enjoys doing all three, Jessica has stated that she has to remember to schedule in some reading for pleasure, too. 

“I forget that I have all of these books that I want to read because I love reading and I need to find some time to actually do that. So that’s actually happening on my lunch breaks now.” 

Love of Literature and Romance

Much of Jessica’s writing has to do with romantic fiction, and her podcast When In Romance is no different – highlighting diverse romances and romcoms with fellow Book Rioter Trisha Brown.  

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that her first book, Black Love Matters, is an anthology all about celebrating love. 

Black Love Matters was almost entirely a pandemic baby - Jessica remembers meeting with her editor on Zoom and says it sold to Berkley in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, and it came out just this past year. 

“It’s been a little bit of an isolated experience because I haven’t been able to see the contributors or go to bookstores to go to signings and that kind of thing, although I’ve been able to do a few things in person here in Tucson. But it’s really cool that words that I’ve been able to pull together both of my own and by other people are out in the world.” She notes the day she realized that Meg Cabot followed her on Twitter: “The day that happened I screenshotted it, like ‘oh my god’,” 

Jessica also shared some of her personal book recommendations for lovers of the romance genre: 

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (“Technically a romance, it’s not published as a romance, but it is a second chance love story. Featuring two very, very, very broken people who have to figure themselves out and find their way back to each other. All of the content warnings.”)

The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder (“The blurb calls it a cross between Sleeping Beauty and Indiana Jones. It’s like a fantasy where these two treasure hunters find the sleeping prince: Briar Rose. Woah, it’s so good. Flying through it.”)

Advice for Future Librarians and Writers and On Diversifying Your Bookshelf 

When asked about her advice for aspiring librarians and writings, Jessica notes the importance of variety. 

“I definitely recommend trying things out – take the classes that you’re interested in, do various types of internships if you can afford it. Get certain jobs if you can’t, and just sort of let your interests take you. You could find something perfect for you that you just didn’t expect.”

Her advice for writers is about staying consistent: 

“I was just reading this article that was talking about how writing every day is terrible advice because not everybody can do it. But I will say keep going. Because I can go several days without putting something to paper or notes on my phone or something. But I always have ideas and I always write them down. And once there’s something that I can’t let go of I try to pursue it as far as possible.”

Sometimes that may only be a few paragraphs, sometimes it may be, as she puts it, “a surprise book.” 

And finally, Jessica answered questions about how librarians and people of all types could begin to diversify their bookshelves.

“No matter what kind of reader you are, whether you’re reading for yourself or reading as a collection development person, or reading as a leader of readers’ advisory person you should always be open to more diversity. And there are lots of ways that you can do that actively. Because if you’re not actively trying, you might find yourself reading all of the same stuff. And you can do that by following certain social media accounts that really help.”

And you can first start out by following Book Riot and Jessica on Social Media.