Library gives Killebrew photos to UNC-Chapel Hill


Charlie Killebrew


John Henderson

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Braswell Memorial Library has signed over ownership of historical photograph negatives from the Charles S. Killebrew Collection to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The negatives have been moved from cold storage in Raleigh, which the library was funding at a cost of $1,500 a year, to the UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library.

In 2003, Braswell Memorial Library purchased this large collection of photographic negatives from Killebrew for $20,000 with financial assistance from the Rocky Mount Community Foundation.

“It’s a wonderful collection,” library Director Jane Blackburn said. “We were very lucky that the Rocky Mount Community Foundation gave us a grant to buy them from Charlie.”

The costs of preserving the negatives of the former Rocky Mount Telegram and studio photographer, combined with converting the more than 500,000 picture negatives to digitized files, has been draining to the library’s resources, Blackburn said.

“We really hate to let the collection go, but the library does not have the money or the manpower to do it justice,” Blackburn said. “The first priority of the collection’s owner is to preserve the negatives, and the library is increasingly hard-pressed to do even that.”

She added that the library’s budget has shrunk nearly $500,000 in the past four years and will probably shrink by more than $150,000 next year.

“Moreover, having owned it for nine years, we have been able to digitize and catalog only about 2.5 percent of the 500,000-plus negatives in the collection, and that at the cost of over $200,000 – money which was diverted from other library priorities such as the book collections and public computers,” she said.

After Killebrew left military service in 1945, he was offered a job at the Rocky Mount Telegram, formerly The Evening Telegram. For many years he was a freelance and staff photographer for the Telegram, operated a studio in Rocky Mount and ran an aerial photography business. Killebrew’s collection of photographic negatives spans his career from 1948 to 1997.

Blackburn said Killebrew’s negatives are being well cared for at UNC, noting that the university will be digitizing the pictures from the negatives and eventually displaying them on their website.

“It’s time for an organization with better resources and a commitment to preserving the history of North Carolina to take over the job,” Blackburn said. “The folks at Chapel Hill will follow the best practices of digitization and create an outstanding product that people can view, enjoy and use for years to come.”

Braswell Memorial Library intends to continue to work to find ways to identify the contents of the Killebrew negatives, and there may be federal grant funds to help, Blackburn said.

Stephen Fletcher, N.C. Collection Photographic Archivist at UNC, said in a prepared statement that the photographic collection has landed in a good place.

“Mr. Killebrew’s photographic legacy will have a good home in the North Carolina Collection,” he said. “Killebrew’s negatives join those of his contemporaries: Hugh Morton of Wilmington and Grandfather Mountain, Edward McCauley of the Burlington Daily Times-News, and Don Sturkey of the Charlotte Observer. The importance of the Killebrew collection is indisputable, a vital resource for visual researchers and historians of Rocky Mount, Eastern North Carolina, and the entire state. We are honored to be its caretakers.”