Most of our visitors are aware that the Institute for the History of Frankfurt houses enormous quantities of archived material and countless historic treasures: it has around 15.5 miles (25 km) of documents, nearly two million images and about 70,000 maps, including street and road maps, to name but a few. Yet not many know how all this material reaches the Institute in the first place.
Whenever documents have been created by Frankfurt’s offices or authorities, the City Council is under an official duty to offer them to the Institute for heritage appraisal. It is a different matter with heritage material or collections that have not been created in this way. According to the Hessian Archives Act, any documents created by the offices and departments of a city or town council must be offered to their local archiving facility. This duty covers all types of documents, i.e. not just analogue files, maps, street and road maps and photographs, but also digital images, audio material and video footage as well as data arising from administrative procedures, electronic files and general file storage.
It is the function of the archivists to sift through those vast masses of material and to select any items that should be preserved for posterity. In doing so, they apply certain scientific methods. When dealing, for instance, with massive volumes of files such as social service documents, they must choose a small but representative quantity. In the case of factual records, on the other hand, they must produce a precise analysis of the authority’s sphere of responsibility, so that they can assess the informative value of the material under a variety of criteria. In such instances the archivists also enquire where the documents on a given issue or topic really yield the most insightful information. If, for instance, the Cultural Affairs Department has financial files, they do not usually archive those documents, as this area is better documented by the Finance Department. Systematic comparisons are conducted between submissions from different offices, to avoid any duplicate archiving. Depending on the office, we thus select between 2 and 20% of all documents.
Archivists are aware that their acceptance of material will determine the research options of the future. Their aim is to map essential developments and topics from all spheres of life in Frankfurt, i.e. business, culture, politics and social services. At the same time we want to illustrate the workings of our administration in our present time and how specific functions are carried out. By appraising and accepting material, the Institute therefore lays the groundwork for the work of future researchers, while also preserving legally relevant documents and exercising an important democratic function.