Windows 8.1 – Libraries

A rose by any other name …

Shakespeare may have been right in saying that a rose by any other name smells just as sweet, but names by themselves are powerful conveyors of feeling and information in addition to identifying an item.

The computing world has taken advantage of that throughout its history by applying well-known names to new concepts. “File” and “folder” are outstanding examples of that. The word “file”, because of its well-understood historical usage, makes the computer file an easily understood concept. The word “folder” similarly explains the idea all by itself. Indeed “folder” is not the initial word for a collection of computer files, early on that grouping was called a “directory”. But “folder” caught on because it was so easily understood.

A while back Microsoft introduced a very useful idea to make access to information even easier. This was adding essentially custom shortcuts to just about any folder in the navigation structure. However, the choice of name for that aid was most unfortunate. Microsoft called these shortcuts “libraries”. Now, everybody older than a couple of years knows what a library is. That is where books, information, is stored. But Microsoft computer “libraries” are not storage locations. In Windows a library only points to a storage location. Having both “libraries” and “folders” in the navigation utilities became instantly confusing. I teach computer skills, and the concept of “libraries” is one of the most difficult concepts to teach and for students to understand. Even when understood, the name still brings up misconceptions.

Had Microsoft used a term that has the meaning of shortcut, like “shortcuts” or maybe “quickpaths”, or a similar term denoting direction or path rather than location, this concept would have been praised instead of panned and avoided.

With Windows 8.1 Preview Microsoft seems to concede the misstep with libraries. Here take a look at the way the navigation pane looks in Windows Explorer from Windows 7 (in back), File Explorer in Windows 8, and the new “This PC” in Windows 8.1 Preview (in front).


Notice the conspicuous absence of “Libraries”. Now “Documents”, “Pictures”, and the other personal folders are shown under “This PC”. It can get gruesome in the navigation pane if your PC has other users. How is this for easy navigation:


Windows8.1-Preview-126So are “Libraries” gone? Oh no, they are still there, they still work, you can still add drives or folders to them.

You can also show them in the navigation pane. Here is how to add them back to the navigation pane:

Click the View tab. Then click Navigation pane. The drop-down menu includes “Show libraries”. Click that so the checkmark shows and Libraries will be back in the navigation pane.


So Libraries are still there, for now. But if “This PC” is any hint of things to come, prepare for their departure.


© 2013 Ludwig Keck

About Ludwig

Lending a helping hand where I can. . . My motto: If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
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1 Response to Windows 8.1 – Libraries

  1. Geoff Coupe says:

    I fear that you are right that Microsoft is heading in the direction of eliminating Libraries. The Photos App in 8.1 already ignores the contents of the Pictures Library completely. Instead it only displays pictures held on the local PC or on SkyDrive.

    This makes it useless for those of us, like me, who store media on their local network, and want to have it accessible by all the devices on the network.


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