Genealogists spend years and decades building our collections. We have records about our ancestors, mostly copies but many originals. We often acquire papers and objects from other family members, as they know that we are the family historian. Genealogists are often voracious readers as well, and we often amass great numbers of books. I know genealogists who have actually put an addition onto their home simply to have more space for the genealogical materials. The question is, how to ensure your materials are preserved, and protecting your donated collections.
Private residences are not the best places to ensure the long-term survival of your materials. One of the biggest dangers is fire, as few homes are equipped with fire suppression systems. Accidents happen, many beyond the control of the homeowner, and all of your precious items can be gone in only a few minutes. Private homes are also, for the most part, equipped with archival atmospheric conditions. Rare is the home that remains at a constant temperature throughout the year, and even those that do tend to be warmer than the optimal preservation conditions for documents.
The best way to ensure that your collections will be preserved and made available to future generations is to donate them to a repository. These are libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations that will take the proper steps to properly preserve your collections and make them available to future generations. When making a donation, families will often make a financial donation as well. This can help to cover the costs of processing the materials to make them available so that researchers can access them more quickly.
When you make a donation, you can do so with restrictions. For example, some people donate materials with the restriction that information about living people cannot be accessed for 50 years. Restrictions can also be placed on financial donations as well. You can donate funds and delineate exactly what they can (and cannot) be used for.
It is important to know, however, that institutions are more and more frequently disregarding these restrictions. They are choosing to intentionally disregard the restrictions in favor of their own plans. Sometimes they will even go to court to have restrictions removed. The Boston Globe recently ran a story on Gordon College, a Christian school here in Massachusetts, that is trying to see part of a collection that was intended to remain intact. They have had many difficulties in the last year, and this latest controversy is only adding to them.
So be aware that in the end, your restrictions may not count for much. Of course, you could always try inserting language into your donation agreement that states that any attempt by the institution to make changes to your donations will result in the donation being revoked and the materials and finances removed to another institution of your choice. One of the best ways to ensure that your intentions are known is to incorporate them into your will. This ensures that a copy of your wishes goes on permanent file where it can always be accessed, and make it more difficult for institutions to ignore your wishes.