One of the most useful new features in Windows 7 is Libraries, a simple yet powerful tool for streamlining the management of all the files on your PC. It's useful when organising local data, and even more powerful when used to organise data across a network.
The first thing to realise is that libraries are not folders, but rather a way of organising folders that makes it easier to find, sort, and manipulate files that have a common type of content. Simply put, libraries are just a method of bringing together a whole bunch of files and folders stored in different locations.
Libraries have a number of uses:
- They can aggregate files of a particular type. If, for instance, you have photographs located in different folders, you can add them all to the Photos library for easy organisation.
- They can combine folders of a common project. Say you're organising a project that consists of multiple groups with data stored in different folders. By creating a library for the project, you can access all its files in one location.
- They can integrate media libraries stored on different drives. Often, people will have huge collections of videos, photographs or music that cannot fit onto a single drive. With libraries, the collection retains its cohesiveness.
- They can flatten folders for easy sorting. Often it can be useful to sort files by size or modified date. When multiple folders are added to a library, they can be sorted as if they were part of a single folder.
Libraries show their greatest potential when used to aggregate local and non-local data. Those of us who work in corporate environments often have data strewn across the network on different shares and different computers, and finding data in an environment like this can be aggravating and time consuming. The benefits of using Libraries in this situation are two-fold. Firstly, navigation is simplified since you won't have to dig into different shares to find files. More significantly, since all library data is indexed, searching in a single library will give you fast results even as the search is carried across shares stored on remote servers.
Note: Only locations that are indexed by Windows 7 can be added to a library, and the recommended method for indexing a network share is to enable it for offline use. To do this, right click on the folder you want to add and click Always available offline.
Using libraries is easy. In Windows Explorer (Windows Key + E is the fastest way to open this.), click Libraries in the left hand pane. Navigating a library works the same way as navigating folders. To create a library, simply right click on Libraries, select New, then Library and give it a name. To add folders to an existing Library, right click on it, then click Properties, then click on Include a folder and select the folder you want to add. When saving to a library, files are placed in the first folder added to the library. This default save location can be modified in the Properties menu by selecting the preferred folder and clicking Set save location. If the folder you'd like to use isn't already listed, click Include a folder and then browse to the folder you want. Also on the Properties menu is the option to configure a library for a particular file type. This allows Windows to setup the best view for the folder depending on whether the library contain documents, music, pictures videos, or general items.