A massive collecting effort of Latvian folk songs took place during the latter half of the 19th century, coinciding with the period of National awakening in Europe. Carried out by Latvians themselves, it was made the basis for their national identity. Although some smaller collections had been published earlier, it is largely thanks to the lifetime work of Krisjanis Barons that nearly 218,000 song texts were assembled, classified and published in eight thick tomes (1894-1915). To this day it remains a source of collective self-confidence and inspiration for the Latvian people, revealing their rich cultural heritage that had not been previously recorded, yet had endured through centuries by oral transmission.
The source material for each of the printed songs, sent in to Barons by thousands of singers and informants, consists of over 350,000 hand-written paper slips sized 3 x 11 cm in many handwritings including that of Barons, with Barons' annotations and editing marks. They are all stored in a specially built cabinet with 70 drawers for these texts. This "treasure chest" was made in 1880, has served as a working tool, but now has become a cultural symbol. For more than 60 years now it has been housed at the Archives of Latvian Folklore in Riga. The folk songs are but a part of the rich folklore manuscript collection at the Archives that comprises not only song texts but also fairy tales, legends, proverbs, dances, beliefs, melodies, etc., for a total of nearly three million items. There are also audiovisual representations of folklore found at the Archives.