Windows

Personalize Windows 7 by creating new user-defined Libraries

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to create your own Libraries in Windows 7 and gives you some tips on how you can use this knowledge to personalize your Windows 7 experience.
By default Microsoft Windows 7 provides you with four Libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Windows 7 provides you with four Libraries.

You can think of the Libraries technology in Windows 7 as collection points for files of a certain type that can exist in any number of locations. By default, Windows 7 configures the Libraries on a system to display files from your local system. For example, the Documents Library displays files from the My Documents and Public Documents folders on your system. However, you can easily add other locations.

For example, you can customize the Documents Library on a Windows 7 system to display all the documents on an external hard disk, on your team members' My Documents folder, as well as on your company's file server. Now, instead of having to manually troll all over the network to track down files, all you have to do is just go to your local Documents library and everything that you could ever need is right there.

In addition to adding folders to one of the existing Libraries, you can create your own Libraries with narrower focus and add specific folders to your libraries.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to create your own Libraries in Windows 7. As I do, I'll discuss Libraries in more detail.

A slideshow version of this blog post is available in a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

First things first

Before I get started, I have to point out that I know that many of you dislike the whole concept of Windows 7's Libraries. In fact, in a past blog, I showed you how to get rid of them: "Remove Libraries from Windows Explorer in Windows 7."

However, I said it back then and I'll say it now: I think that Libraries are a valuable feature in Windows 7 and I use them regularly. My hope is that even if you say that you won't ever use Libraries now, you will come around once you see their value and begin to use them.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the Library concept.

Looking at Libraries

To begin, when you open a Library, you'll see a header that tells you how many locations that Library is currently configured to monitor. For example, the Pictures Library, shown in Figure B, is by default configured to collect files from two locations.

Figure B

By default, each of Windows 7's Libraries is configured to collect files from two locations.
When you click on that link, you'll see the Pictures Library Locations dialog box, shown in Figure C. As you can see, the two default locations come from the Pictures folders in my user account and the Public account. You'll use the Library Locations dialog box to add and remove locations, as well as keep tabs on which locations are in the Library. (Each of the other three Libraries has a similar Library Locations dialog box.)

Figure C

The two default locations come from the Pictures folders in the current user account and the Public account.

When you click the Add button, you'll see a standard browse dialog box called Include Folder in Pictures where you can add folders from any location to which you have access.

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Creating your own Libraries

Creating your own Libraries is easy: access the Libraries folder and click the New Library button on the Command Bar. You can see that button in Figure A. As soon as the new Library is created, you can assign it a name. Let's suppose that you want to create a new Library to keep track of all the documents related to a new project that you and your team are working on called the Ideas Project.

To continue, just click on the new Library, and you will see that it is empty, as shown in Figure D. You can begin adding folder locations by clicking the Include a Folder button. When you do, you'll see a standard browse folder, and you can select the folder that you want to include.

Figure D

Just click the Include a Folder button to get started.
To add additional folders, click the locations link to access a Library Locations dialog box like the one shown above in Figure C. As you can see in Figure E, I have added three folders from three different locations to the Ideas Project Library on my system. Now, whenever I need to find documents related to the Ideas Project, I will be able to find them easily without having to rummage around multiple locations.

Figure E

You can add specific folders to your Library to make it easy to find related documents.

What's your take?

Now that you know how to create your own Libraries targeted to a specific project or topic, are you likely to create new Libraries? If you have created your own Libraries in the past, what was your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

29 comments
jeff.jones
jeff.jones

I have yet to find a way to effectively control libraries via group policy. They default to local folders (C:\Users\User\My Documents, etc) and are not easy to turn off or re-direct to network. Obuscating the true location of a user's files doesn't always make it easier for the user, especially when they accidentally delete or overwrite a file and don't know the true location of the file they need restored. Libraries may have their place, but those of us who manage 1000's of computers need group Policy tools to manage them, including the folders they represent and the ability to disable them completely

wehmeier
wehmeier

Like a few have commented already, it is just another way to create a link to a folder - but with libraries it isn't easy to add networked folders without first indexing them. I will stick with my shortcut to the folder - it took less time and works.

DOSlover
DOSlover

I have to admit to still being an XP user/advocate but I see libraries as explained as little more than a central storage point of links within a folder. I have been able to do that in windows for a very long time. This might be a little easier in Win 7 but given I can (and) do this already, why would I want something old that has been rebadged as shiny and new? Not objecting to the article in any way shape or form, just the Windows 'feature'.

Thack
Thack

Having read the comments above, two things strike me. Firstly, if you're the kind of person who maintains a carefully structured folder hierarchy, and tend to "think" of your data store in that way, then libraries are probably not aimed at you. I'm that kind of person. I think we are probably in the minority of Windows users, most of whom seem a bit casual when it comes to classifying and organising their data. And now a question: folders and drives in libraries have to be on an indexed drive. However, Windows switches off indexing on SSDs to reduce "wear". I guess they are treated as an exception to the indexing rule. Does anyone know if libraries behave differently on a machine which uses SSDs?

giftmugs
giftmugs

Since more and more people are now using SSD drives as their C:\ drive, all libraries on the C-Drive will have to be relocated to an HDD for space reasons. How can I "relocate" my entire library to a HDD drive other than C:\ Thanks

mysterchr
mysterchr

So if you're running a 2003 environment you cannot use network libraries?

rkmlo
rkmlo

Good luck adding libraries if the location is on a NAS. Because it wants indexed files you first have to add the location to offline files and let it sync. I don't think so.

RU7
RU7

I think everything that can be done with libraries can be done with folders and shortcuts. The best thing to do is use a well laid out folder tree. If you have that, libraries are irrelevant. Except for when you have more than one person accessing a shared file system. In that case each user can use libraries to set up a structure that makes sense to them.

RU7
RU7

for about 5 months now. I like the OS but just today libraries misbehaved and I no longer trust that my actions will do what I expect when I am in a library. I have a directory, D1, with jpg photos. It has a sub-directory, D2, with size-reduced copies of some of the photos and some powerpoint presentation and slide show files using the smaller photos. In the library, the D2 did not show up in D1 but sub-directories in D2 did show up in D2. The library showed all the PP files in both D1 and D2. When I deleted either one of what appeared to be a duplicate set of files, they were deleted from both directories. When I restored them they were restored to both. When I descended the directory tree manually, all directories and files showed up as they should with no duplicates. So I bid Bye Bye to my libraries. Now it is somewhat confusing because libraries show up sometimes and sometimes not, as was mentioned in the removal post. So I'm thinking of showing them again but just ignoring them.

Gnuggs
Gnuggs

Win7 sometimes has a backup problem when you have zipped files in your library. Be careful.

BillyHow
BillyHow

One of the major benefits of Libraries is opening the top level of a library, selecting Details view, and adding Folder Path to the columns. This provides a complete list of all files from all folders easily sorted by name or date. This, e.g., makes duplicates obvious.

andrewsprankling
andrewsprankling

If only you could set up libraries by file types...if anyone knows how, I'd be really happy!

wmjas.shaw
wmjas.shaw

Libraries are a very positive step to get away from the hell of subfolder labyrinths. The breadcrumb was also a good step, but it reaches its limits for deeply buried subfolders. I didn't see Greg mention it, but Libraries provide a way to access the same folders from different angles by putting the same folder or a subfolder somewhere along the path in a separate Library: a subfolder that goes into "Ideas" might also go into a software design folder, for example. I've been thinking for some time about a better way to organize information and Libraries is at least a first step.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

at first I didn't really like them, but now that I understand more about them, I am starting to see who they are a good t hing.

Iang62
Iang62

Microsoft have hid on a neat idea but have insisted that in order to have a remote folder attached to a library it has to be indexed, which means it has to be made available offline, what a mistake, a useful feature killed by an apparently unnecessary action.

rasilon
rasilon

I use Libraries extensively. Combining Libraries with Jump Lists makes shortcuts and nested menus unnecessary. Hank Arnold (MVP)

dogknees
dogknees

I redirect MY Docs to a server folder so it's backed up and is available to others when needed. I can't add any sub-folders to a Library as they are not on an indexed drive. This was about the third new thing (just after Libraries) I discovered on Win7 and I'm not impressed! Any suggestions as to how to effective use Libraries in this environment?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What does your example do that creating three shortcuts won't, either on your desktop, in your default folder, or under the equally annoying 'Favorites'? I'm grateful you reposted the 'How to remove libraries' link. I lost track of it the first time.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I admit I have been slow to adapt to the Libraries concept. I get how it would be useful but I have always been a folder guy. What about you? Have you tried Libraries? Have you embraced Libraries wholeheartedly? Regale us with your tales of increased productivity!

michael_boardman
michael_boardman

Sorry, but I just don't get libraries AT ALL. Ever since I started using computers, I have had a specific folder structure: folders labelled (eg) Excel Work, Word Work, and so on, with sub-folders as necessary. I also set the default File Save path there, if such a feature is available. I even had a Pictures folder before the MS My Pictures folder was invented. I can't see that libraries do anything that a well-organised folder structure doesn't do, and the libraries all too often don't even seem to work as advertised. Ergo, I leave 'em alone in favour of my tried and trusted layout.

ddelapaz1
ddelapaz1

I agree, indexing and offline folders kills it for me. I use Libraries at home but we were taught long ago to turn indexing off on file servers due to the resources it uses to run. The resources indexing uses outweighed the benefits. I tried offline folders and had issues accessing some of our network resources and disabled it since I couldn't find a fix.

Craig_B
Craig_B

If you have Windows Server 2008 R2 file servers and add the Windows Search Service roll on it then you may add network folders from in into your local libraries. With this feature I have my local documents and a network documents share under "Documents" so if I search for anything it will search through both locations. This is a great feature.

dogknees
dogknees

Can you add the content of an arbitrary list of folders to your Shortcut? That's where they are different and useful. It very handy to have all the information, which may be scattered about the file system, available from one place. If you work on a number of different projects and need to switch between them all the time, Libraries can be a useful organisational tool.

RU7
RU7

I couldn't handle that structure. I organize by project or task first. So, if we were to begin collaborating, and you gave me access to your files, I'd set up a library for each task. Then, to work on a given file, I'd have to find it first. When I found it, I would add it to the appropriate library. We would both still be working on the same file, it'd just be easier for me to find it when I needed to. But, again, folders and shortcuts would work the same way.

6642633
6642633

I would like to suggest this to our IT people... I'm not an IT guy and would appreciate it it you provide me with more details so that I can pass to our IT people

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Can you add the content of an arbitrary list of folders to your Shortcut?" No, but I can add shortcuts to arbitrary folders to a Desktop folder or to Favorites. I don't leave info scatter all over the file system. Info related to a project is in one place. If I'm the only one working on it, it's in My Documents (remapped to a network folder); if there are multiple people working on it, it's in a network share. I'll take you word that scattered info happens, but if it is scattered, how do you find it to add the folder to a Library in the first place?

6642633
6642633

thanks for the info...

Craig_B
Craig_B

They need to configure a Windows Server 2008 R2 Server and add the following Roles: File Server and Windows Search Service (not the indexing service). A Wizard should prompt them for which drive/folder to index. They would Share out a folder on that drive. From the Win 7 Client you would map that drive, open Explorer, right-click on the mapped folder or sub-folder, "Include in Library" and select the Library or create a new one. (It may take awhile for the server to index everything) Now you can search your libraries and it will search them all, local and network. Here's a link to MS Forums with some information: http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/winserverfiles/thread/f62cca43-0c13-41fb-a23a-e1dfb107f19f Summary: Configure Win Server 2008 R2 Search Service and Win 7 Search, Map drive and add to Library.

dogknees
dogknees

It's most useful when you're pulling things together from different sources. While your project stuff might be in one area, you might be referring to code from another project or related documents. Yes, short-cuts do the job, but a Library is just a little more convenient.

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