Windows 7 Libraries Explained – And Why You Want Them

Windows 7 Libraries Explained – And Why You Want Them

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a new feature in Windows 7 called libraries, but I was mean enough not to provide any details.

Here’s my attempt to make up for it.

First off, this isn’t difficult or complicated, and it is very cool. Windows XP and Vista used something called Known Folders as a standard set of places for you to store your files. In XP, the primary folder was My Documents, and there were some additional known folders inside that for My Pictures and My Music.

In Vista, some other folders were added to the picture, but the structure was much the same. There was one major change though. Microsoft removed the ‘My’ part of the names, so we ended up with Documents and Pictures. Windows 7 takes that base and does something stunning with it. Let me explain, and then I’ll show you an example.

Windows 7 contains a set of libraries. Each one works that same way, and they all take the place of the standard folders in XP and Vista.

A Library can be treated like a folder with a group of subfolders inside it, and can also pull some nifty tricks all of its own. The important thing to remember is this: the subfolders are not actually stored in the library. They are just made to seem as though they are. Each library has some default contents, but you can change these, and also create new libraries if you wish.

If you’re feeling a little confused, this example should clear it right up. You won’t need to see your doctor. Relax.

I’m a photographer, so the most interesting library to me is Pictures, but all of this applies to any library you choose. They all sit inside the Libraries, which is available as soon as you start Windows Explorer, so let’s start there.


As you can see, the four default libraries are here. Double-click the Pictures library to have a look inside it.


Inside Pictures is a single folder, called Sample Pictures. Now, come for a ride. It’s 2007, and you’re seriously early to the Windows 7 world. You’ve taken a whole lot of photographs, and you want somewhere to put them. Easy. Create a folder in the library, just the way you do anywhere else. Right-click in the open space, choose new ““ folder, and give it a name. Like 2007 for instance.


Now double-click that folder to open it, and put all your images in it. Let’s hope you managed to save more images than this, though.


Okay, now so far this is all just the way a folder would work, right? You could also create more subfolders in here if you needed to. No problem. But in this case, you didn’t need to.

Now, a year or so goes by, and you’ve been busy using up disk space with whatever you usually use to fill it. None of my business. in any case, You bought yourself a new-fangled USB hard drive, and plugged it in. It popped up as your E: drive, and you stored some more images there.


All good so far, except that now you have two places to look for images, unless you can remember which year you took them. Library to the rescue.

If we go back to the Picture Library, you can see there’s a link under title. It currently says 2 Locations. Click the link.


By default, the library includes files from your own Pictures folder and also the Windows 7 Public Pictures folder. We want to add another location. The place we stored the 2008 images. Click the Add”¦ button, and browse to the folder that contains the folder you put the images in. So, don’t choose E:\pictures\2008, just E:\pictures.


Click the Include folder button, and then OK.


It might take a while to save the changes”¦


“¦ but then, you’ll see that a new location has been added, and the photos are now all available in the library, just as though they had been moved there.

So why is this so cool?

  • The pictures have not been moved
  • The link is live. That is, if you add more folders inside E:\Pictures, then they will also appear in the library
  • You can, with the right network setup, add folders from other computers to the libraries
  • You can create whole new libraries if you wish

Most importantly, you can view things in the library in ways that you just can’t do with a folder.

Let me just add another folder to keep it interesting. Now that you know how it works, I’ll show you a short-cut as well.

Browse to the location that you have your 2009 pictures stored in”¦


Now click the Include in library button.


Choose the Pictures library. You’ll get that same delay as the files are added”¦

Browse back to the library, and you’ll see you have yet another year’s images.


Now, for some “Library-only” tricks.

See the Arrange by option, which is currently set to Folder? Change it to Day.


Now the pictures are sorted by the date on which they were taken. All of this is completely independent of the folders in which the files are stored. Try Month.


I hope you’re impressed.

One more. Try Tag.


I’ve written about image meta-data before. I’ve used some other software to add tags to these images, and now Windows recognises them. So, if I wanted to find all the images taken at Waihi Beach, I just need to do this. Double-clicking on one of the tags opens a folder with all the matching images inside, in date order. Very nice.

Try this with your music files and you’ll have a whole different set of options.

And that’s it. Libraries are great, especially for anyone who has been creating files for some time. But I’d like to know what you think. Will you use them? What for? Let me know in the comments.


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