I have had some forty years of experience working as a volunteer at
a museum and am well aware of people donating things.
My first advice, something that I am following in my own estate
planning, is to have a written agreement as to accessibility. Our
museum really goes out of its way to get our files out and available,
but my general experience in this type of thing is that institutions
usually do _not_ make the stuff available for the average person
unless you are a "special" person, one "worthy enough" to upset the
curator's daily routine.
If you do get access, you often have to pay through the nose to get
copies beyond simple Xerox's, and you are forbidden to use the item in
publication without "royalties". I cannot say how many times this has
been true in the research I have done over the years. I have even been
denied access to materials I donated! What a bitter experience.
I have better than ten thousand items I will be leaving to museums when
I die. But to get this collection (of non-musical) items, the museum
must agree to make quality photo copies available for personal and
editorial use at costs only. It is my intention to get the information
out there, not to have some holier-than-thou curator hoard it!
We must remember that there would be no museums unless there were
private collectors saving the stuff in the first place. I look at
so many of the museums that have big automatic musical instruments in
their collection, and then look at private collectors. There is no
doubt that most of the museums are far down the list in taking care of
these items, much less willing to keep them in good working order and
willing to have them played. If it were not for MBSI members and their
own private collections, very few of the magnificent orchestrions now
saved would even exist.
Even the rare literature that Kevin Kline and others have would
not even be saved. If I need access to a rare rollography, for
example, I can usually find someone glad to make a copy for me (as
I do for others). But you cannot even know if an item exists in an
institution, much less get copies of it. What good will be a catalog
of a collection not made until 2094?
And then we see that museums and libraries regularly de-accession
stuff. Much of what is in the hands of private collectors today was
in the hands of museums before. I have complete runs of old trade
journals dumped by libraries. Is this what you want?
I say to keep the collection in private hands. Most of us gladly share
what we have with others who are interested.