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Reference Librarian at Phillips Lytle Laura Suttell

published March 03, 2008

Published By
( 31 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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"But I did really well at it, and I enjoyed it," she adds. "I just never in a million years thought that I would end up doing [it as a career]."

After graduating from college Suttell got a job at a newspaper indexing stories. Unlike today, where technology dominates the journalism world, Suttell describes her experience as "low tech."

"We had some things on the computer, but we didn't have spell check," she says.

But regardless of early 80s disadvantages, Suttell loved the work — so much so that she pursued a library degree in graduate school at the University at Buffalo. She flew through the master's program, worked part-time at UB's law library, and, because of her busy schedule, strayed from joining any campus organizations.

"I don't know if that was the grad school thing, not living on campus, being a commuter," she says. "I was
really focused on getting my degree and then getting out of there, so I didn't participate fully."

After a year and a half, Suttell graduated in 1993. Her first post-graduation aspirations? To work for a two-year or four-year college library. However, she fell into consulting for law firms, helping them organize their libraries, before temping at various jobs.

"I did all sorts of things, really, except what I really wanted to do," she says with a laugh. But as it is with all professionals, "it was part of the journey."

And what came from this journey were contacts that helped her land two full-time positions at local Buffalo law firms and a part-time job that lasted about four or five years. In the latter, Suttell worked at the reference desk at the University at Buffalo, doing what she had originally desired to do.

"And that was probably my best experience ever," says Suttell. "The variety of people who would come in, everybody from undergraduate to people who had no affiliation to the university at all to law students trying to do homework, [is what I most enjoyed]. And the collection was fantastic. I got so spoiled there. We pretty much had everything we needed."

Suttell was working hard. At one point she was working three part-time jobs.

"But," she adds, "it was a strict schedule, and that's how I kept it straight. People were so confused! They thought, 'How in the world do you do that?' [And I would say], 'Well, if it's Tuesday, I must be here.'"

Thankfully, she didn't have to keep this pace up forever. In May 2001 Suttell joined Phillips Lytle as its reference librarian, and today she works only one job.

The firm, which "practices every kind of law except criminal and divorce family law," is located in several cities throughout New York and "has the farthest geographic reach within New York State of any law firm, with offices in Buffalo, Chautauqua (Jamestown and Fredonia), Rochester, Albany, New York, and Garden City," says its website.

"Any given day I could get a question from an attorney, paralegal, or secretary in a really big variety of topics and groups," says Suttell regarding her responsibilities. "So mainly I take — as my title sounds — a reference request, really basic things to 'get me a copy of this case' to 'get me someone's current address' to detailed projects that could go on for weeks or months.

"A typical day I would be working on ongoing projects, taking in the requests that I can turn out more quickly — not triage, but actually it feels like that some days. Like, 'All right, you need this by Wednesday, so I'm going to put you off and put that back on the list.' So trying to balance all the different requests based on the attorney's time constraints and what materials we have on hand, what we need to order, what we can get within the office, and what we can't."

From handling numerous requests to dealing with various professionals, Suttell helps keep the firm running smoothly. Her organizational skills, her willingness to ask for help, and her ability to communicate all aid her in dealing with problems. One experience that has helped shape her career has been working with her supervisor, Christine Westphal.

"Obviously you hope to learn a lot from your boss, but she's helped me communicate with the attorneys and really let them know where I am with a project, what you found, what you can do and can't do. [She's helped me learn how to] communicate. It sounds like a basic one, but it helps so much."

And another person who has played a significant role in Suttell's life is Marcia Zubrow. A mentor to Suttell, Zubrow worked as a librarian at the University at Buffalo law library.

"She was responsible for hiring me to work part-time at the reference desk after I was out of school, and she's definitely been my mentor," says Suttell. "First by hiring me and having confidence in me and then in teaching me good practices in research."

Working in and for the community have also been notable experiences in Suttell's career.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I like to go to new restaurants. Travel locally. I like to go to the farmer's market. I enjoy local food and trying new food. I like to cook, but don't do it all the time, and bake. I like to travel, but I usually read about traveling more than I travel. I always have travel magazines and books, and people say, "Oh, are you going there?" and I say, "No, I'm just reading about it." So I'm very well read in the travel area, but I haven't left [the country] in about four or five years."
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now, or what music is on your iPod?
A. I don't have anything in my CD player right now, but I did get an iPod for my birthday, and I've been listening to The Pogues a lot and an old band from Britain called The Jam — things I listened to years ago. I'm going back in time on my iPod.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. I read a copy from last Christmas or the year before — it was a hand-me-down — of Rachael Ray's magazine, so that was really fun. I collect old magazines people are giving away. I don't mean old valuable ones…but old ones like they're taking up space in people's homes, and then I fill my trunk with them. You're never at a loss for something to read if you break down.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. A show called American Experience. It's on PBS, and it's a different topic every week. And History Detective.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My role model would have to be my dad. He's very civic minded; he's very engaged in public service; he's always going to meetings; he's an elected official in the little town where he lives. He's always helping others. I don't remember my parents ever sitting around. He's always doing something to help somebody.

"Contributing to projects that are on the local news that are pertinent to everybody in…Western New York is kind of neat because you can see how the firm and everybody here contribute to change, right in my own backyard. That's satisfying and gratifying."

Apart from working for her firm, Suttell spends her time on the board of the American Association of Law Libraries.

"We have a local chapter with the name of ALLUNY [Association of Law Libraries of Upstate New York]. We have members all the way to Albany but some members who are part of both the Downstate New York and North Island group and our group. And I was elected to our board about a year ago. So that's been really fun to get involved because I was a new member and got to know people, and now six or seven years passed, and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm on the board.'"

An "uncool" job in a library and a job indexing stories for a newspaper is all it took for Suttell to fall in love with her work. But perseverance and determination landed her where she is today — at a top firm as a reference librarian and on the board of a well-known library organization. With such professional and personal experience, Suttell has this to offer those starting out in their careers:

"Get your name out there, be active, and join organizations. Networking is key. Don't be afraid to ask for help or ask for suggestions or contact your colleagues, because people really do want to help new people in the field."

published March 03, 2008

( 31 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.