Jamal Booker, Strategic Communications Manager, Coca-Cola Company
Jamal Booker is a Strategic Communications Manager at the Coca-Cola Company. He has previously worked at the Maryland State Archives, the Georgia State Archives, and from 2005 until January of this year, he was an archivist at the Coca-Cola archives. Jamal also served as former Chair of the Business Archive Section of SAA.
Jamal was interviewed for Archiving in Color by Michelle Peralta.
How did you first become involved in archives?
In 11th grade, my teacher actually sent me down to the Maryland State Archives so I could do research for a video project on black people in the Civil War. That summer, I was able to do a short internship at the Maryland State Archives because of the person I had met while researching there. Then I went off to college and studied African American history I followed that up by doing a full internship my first summer out of college, and ended up staying at the Maryland State Archives for two years on a grant-funded project. While there, I researched the Underground Railroad and the history and legacy of slavery in the state of Maryland, and I really loved that work. It was really that love of African American history that kept me in the archives, which lead to a job working in archives.
What brought you to the Georgia State Archives?
While I was working for at the Maryland State Archives, I was working part-time at an electronics store, so when I moved down to Georgia, I looked up electronics stores to see if I could get a job. On my way over, I happened upon the Georgia State Archives. I thought I would just go in and see if there were any job openings, since I had experience doing archival work at the Maryland State Archives.
I went in and introduced myself, and I ended up meeting Brenda Banks. They didn’t really have a job opening at the time, but—and I will never forget her for this—she worked something out to get me hired. She saw something in me and also recognized the need to diversify the profession. The fact that I’m standing here is because of her.
How did you make the jump from working at state archives to corporate archives?
About two years into my tenure at the Georgia State Archives, I became involved with a well-known program called the Georgia Archives Institute. As part of the program, I did a 3-day internship at a local repository, and of all the places, my internship location happened to be at the Coca-Cola archives.
I am very thankful for how things lined up for me because while I was doing my internship, they happened to have a job opening and I applied. I had the job experience but I didn’t have the education background—I didn’t come through an archival program—and it was due to Phil Mooney who saw in potential in me and decided to invest in me. First with Brenda Banks and then with Phil Mooney, I had a lot of people looking out for me along the way and helped me get to where I am now.
Any memorable experiences with SAA or AAC?
I joined SAA and the AAC section as soon as I was brought on at Coca-Cola in 2005, and attended my first meeting in Washington D.C. What’s been unfortunate is that since then, the AAC section meeting has been held at the same time as the Business Archives section. So I’ve only been to one official AAC section meeting!
The first session I ever presented at was in SAA in 2008, along with Brenda Banks and Elizabeth Adkins, on the topic of increasing diversity in archives. I also served on the diversity committee of SAA for 2 years, and became the chair of the Business Archives section. While I was chair one of the initiatives I brought forward was how to increase diversity in corporate archives.
In what ways do you think SAA/AAC facilitate diversity and inclusion initiatives?
One of the projects I’ve been most proud of here at Coca-Cola is when we partnered with the Atlanta University Center’s archives on Recruiting Tomorrow’s Library Leaders, a grant-funded project to sponsor internships for undergraduate students in libraries and archives. Many of the interns came from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and have gone on to work in archives full-time.
“Many of my peers, including myself, had no indication of how extensively the field of library science had developed. Through the [Recruiting Tomorrow’s Library Leaders] program I had the opportunity to explore all the facets of librarianship, fortunately allowing me to discover my passion for archival work. Through the program I discovered I could incorporate my background in communications with archives. My overall experience has been priceless and guided me to pursue my masters in the Fall at the University of North Texas where I will obtain my masters in Library Science.”
Recruiting Tomorrow’s Library Leaders enjoyed success in exposing students of diverse backgrounds to archives. What I’d to see more from SAA are more pilot programs like RTLL. The program was maybe a two-year program, and I would love to revisit it and I think SAA could be a champion of programs like this.
“I am pursuing a degree in Communication Arts with a focus in print and broadcast journalism. Because of the RTLL internship program, I am seriously considering attending graduate school for librarianship. Your work in archives, public relations, and communications, showed the versatility library science can bring.”
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I never envisioned myself working for a corporation. Corporations are not all the evil giants that they are made out to be. The number of opportunities in corporations, either working in the archives or outside of them, are incredible.
In 11 years, I have been to 10 countries working for the archives at Coca-Cola on various projects. For example, I went to South Africa and did two video projects that marked the history of Coca-Cola there, including “Uncovering the mystery of Albie Louw.”
There seems to be some tension in SAA between corporate archives and other types of archives. But I think there are a lot of things to be learned from corporate archives, especially with the way they collaborate with other institutions or market themselves, that could enhance the profile of SAA. In another project, Coca-Cola collaborated with the Atlanta University Center and Emory University to host an exhibition and a panel discussion to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This collaboration demonstrates how archives can think outside of the box in unexpected ways. There is incredible potential for partnerships and I would push for more collaborations between corporate archives and other institutions.
Lastly, working in corporate archives gave me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise and helped me develop skills outside of the archive that have lead me to where I am today.
Michelle Peralta is a graduate student at San Jose State University pursuing an MLIS degree in the School of Information. Her interests include collective memory, information literacy, and digital collections.