How to Use Libraries for Managing Groups of Files & Folders in Windows

LibrariesLibraries are one of the most misunderstood and, at the same time, the most useful features in Windows. They can help people organize their files and folders very efficiently. By using libraries, you can easily build a system so that you can always find what you want in seconds. Not only that, but you can also sort, tag or edit files and folders with just a few clicks. In this article I will explain what libraries are, show how they work and how to create new ones. Also, I'll show how to add new folders to a library, how to modify its properties and how to delete a library.

What is a library in Windows? What are the benefits of using libraries?

Think of a library as a virtual collection of folders on your system. It is virtual because it doesn't exist as an actual folder. A library is a reference to one or more folders on your computers and the files found inside. For example, you can have documents stored in multiple locations like: your Documents folder, on the Desktop and some other locations. You can have a Documents library which references all these locations. When you open the library, you will see all these folders and their contents as if they are sub-folders of the Documents library. This feature helps you organize all your files together in one place regardless of where they are stored. This has many benefits in terms of productivity when working with lots of files split in many locations.

In Windows 7 and Windows 8, default libraries include two standard folders: the user folder specific to each library and the public folder specific to it. For example, the Documents library includes your user's Documents folder and the Public Documents folder, the Music library includes your user's Music folder and the Public Music folder and so on. To learn more about public folders and their role in Windows, read this guide: Simple Questions: What is the Public Folder & How to Use it?.

By default, you have the Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos libraries. Three of them can be found, by default, on the upper right side of the Start Menu in Windows 7.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7

They can also be accessed in the navigation pane of Windows Explorer (Windows 7) and File Explorer (Windows 8).

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

When clicking a library, Windows/File Explorer displays all the files and folders that are part of it, as if they are physically stored inside the library.

Libraries are also displayed in Save As dialogues, so that you can quickly save your work in the appropriate library.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7

Another important benefit of using libraries is that they are automatically indexed by Windows. When performing searches, your libraries are part of the search index and results are returned very fast.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 8

Last but not least, they are used by some Windows features and apps. For example, in Windows 8, File History automatically backs up your libraries, so that you never lose their content. Windows 8 apps from the Windows Store, also prioritize libraries as the default locations for storing and working with files.

To summarize, here is what you get for using libraries in Windows:

  • An easier way to organize your files and folders, customized for the type of content stored inside (documents, pictures, music, videos).
  • Quick access to libraries from most programs, dialogue boxes and windows.
  • Fast search, so that you can find what you are looking for in seconds instead of minutes.
  • Some Windows apps and features are built to use libraries and work better with them than with standard folders. Therefore you will be more productive if you are using libraries.

How to Create a Library in Windows 7 & Windows 8

First, open Windows/File Explorer. Then, click or tap the Libraries section in the Navigation pane.

In Windows 7, go to the bar on the top of the Windows Explorer window and click New Library. Then, type the name of the newly created library.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7

In Windows 8, expand the Home tab on the ribbon and click or tap New item, then Library, in the New section. Type the name of the new library.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 8

Another way is to right click the empty space in the Libraries section, go to New and then Library.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

Then, type the name of the new library.

How to Add Folders to a Library in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Now you have a new but empty library. To add folders to it, first open it. Then, click or tap Include a folder, browse your computer, select the folder you want to include and click or tap Include folder.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

After you select the folder, Windows/File Explorer will scan its contents and include it in the library.

Another way is to right click the library you want to add folders to and select Properties. Then click Include a folder (in Windows 7) or Add (in Windows 8), browse your computer, select the folder you want to include, click or tap Include folder and then OK.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

Another alternative is to open Windows/File Explorer and navigate to the folder that you want to include in a library. Right click (or press and hold) on it. In the contextual menu that is displayed, select Include in library and then the library where you want it placed.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

How to Sort the Contents of a Library

In the Libraries space, every type of files has its own set of personalized characteristics, that are displayed as possible columns specific to each library type:

  • Documents - files inside this library are described by the following characteristics: name, date modified, type, size, date created, folder path, authors, categories, tags and title.

    Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 8

  • Pictures - files inside this library are described by characteristics like: name, date, tags, rating, type and others;
  • Music - files inside this library are described by characteristics like: name, album, artist, title, genre, bit rate, rating and others;
  • Videos - files inside this library are described by characteristics like: Name, folder, year, type, length and others.

These tags/data columns can be used for quick sorting, grouping, etc. To learn more about how to filter and group files and folders, we recommend reading these tutorials:
Transform Windows Explorer with Filtering Options (for Windows 7 users)
Introducing Windows 8: How to Use the View Tab in File Explorer (for Windows 8 users)

How to Edit the Properties of a Library in Windows 7 & Windows 8

To open the properties of a library, right click (or press and hold) the desired library and select Properties.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

The following properties are available for customization:

  • Set save location - gives you the possibility to select default save location for files and folders. When you add new files or folders to the library, Windows will store them in this folder of your library.
  • Set public save location - this button is visible only in Windows 8. It allows users to set a folder as the default save location for other users working with that library. Therefore, you can have two separate save locations - one for your user account and another for other user accounts.
  • Include a folder (in Windows 7) or Add (in Windows 8) - allows you to include a new folder in the library.
  • Remove - excludes the selected folder from the library.
  • Optimize this library for - displays a list of visualization templates that can be applied to the selected library. This will make Windows/File Explorer display relevant tags, columns and sorting fields, based on the content type you have selected. Also, it will change the icon of the library, to be more suggestive of its content.
  • Shown in navigation pane - is an attribute that allows the library to be shown in the navigation pane, on the left side of the Windows/File Explorer window. When disabled, the library is not shown in the navigation pane.
  • Shared - is an attribute that informs you whether the library is shared with the network or not.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 8

If you want to revert a library to its initial settings, click or tap Restore Defaults.

How to Remove a Folder from a Library in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Deleting a folder that is part of a library is done the same way you want to remove any folder your computer. But what if you want to remove a folder from a library, without deleting it from your computer?

That's just as easy. Open the library and go to the folder you want to remove from it. Then, right click (or press and hold). In the contextual menu, select "Remove location from library".

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

Alternatively, you can open the properties of the library as shown in the previous section, select the folder and then press Remove.

How to Delete a Library in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Deleting a file or folder from a library means deleting it from your hard disk. Deleting the library itself deletes the library but not the folders and files that were inside. Because libraries are virtual collections of files and folders, a library's files and folders will continue to exist on your hard disk after the library is deleted.

How do you delete a library? The procedure is simple: right click (or press and hold) the library you want to delete. Then, in the contextual menu, click or tap Delete.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 7, Windows 8

In Windows 8, you can also use the ribbon. Select the library, expand the Home tab on the ribbon and click or tap Delete.

Libraries, Folders, Organize, Windows 8

Conclusion

As you can see, libraries are a great feature of Windows. I use them heavily and I consider that they are a big productivity improvement. But what about you? Are you using the libraries? What is your way of organizing and managing files and folders?