Windows 7: Finding Your Files with Search and Libraries

Lesson 6: Finding Your Files with Search and Libraries



At this point, you are likely ready to start organizing and accessing your files and content. Windows 7 has developed search and libraries to make it easier to find, maneuver, and customize your files.

In this lesson, we will show you how to access your content through Search and Libraries. In addition, we will highlight the features that offer customization and convenience, including tagging, search filters, and creating libraries.

What are Libraries?

Most users access their files through My Documents, the C drive, or from other locations like a server or backup drive. You are likely accustomed to sorting through tiered stacks of folders to get to your content. This process can be time consuming, especially if you cannot remember where an item is filed. Microsoft wanted to make finding your files easier, so it developed Libraries.

Libraries are collections of your stored content that can be easily accessed through the Desktop Search function. Libraries do not replace your folders; they simply house them in a single collection. When files are placed in a Library, their properties are indexed by the Search function. This indexing makes accessing files in Search quick and easy.

Learn more about Search and Libraries in this video.

There are four default Libraries in Windows 7: Documents, Pictures, Music, and Videos. Later in this lesson, we will also show you how to create Libraries of your own.

Default LibrariesDefault Libraries

Windows Explorer

Understanding Windows Explorer will help you navigate through your content and work with your files and folders in an easy manner.

  • Click the folder icon on the taskbar to open Windows Explorer.
    Insert ImageWindows Explorer icon

Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn more about the Windows Explorer interface.

labeled graphic

Details Pane

The Details pane allows you to view additional information and add tags and ratings to the currently selected item.

Navigation Buttons

Use the Back and Forward buttons to navigate between folders.


Shortcuts will appear in the toolbar depending on the item types in the Library pane.

Address Bar

Use the Address bar to see the path of the current folder.

Library Pane

Items can now be organized by Libraries.

Arrange By

Depending on the Library, you can arrange content by month, day, rating, and more.

Search Bar

Use the search bar to search for specific files or folders.

Show Preview Pane Button

Click to see a preview of items in your folders.

View Button

Click to change the way items are displayed.

Navigation Pane

You can access folders in the traditional way using tiered stacks of content in the Navigation pane.

To use Windows Explorer:

  • Move through your content by double-clicking folders, clicking on the Back and Forward buttons, or by clicking on headings in the Address bar.
  • Preview files by selecting the Show the Preview pane button.
  • When you double-click a file, it will open in the default program.

To change the view of the content in your folders:

You have several options for how you can view content in your folders. For example, you may prefer seeing Details when viewing file documents and Extra Large Icons when viewing pictures.

  • To change the view, select the View button and choose your preference.
    View buttonChange view of items in folders

To change how your content is arranged:

Depending on the Library, you can Arrange content by month, day, rating, and other factors.

  • Select the Arrange by button, and choose your preference.
    Arrange by buttonChange how items are arranged

Using Search

To search your Libraries:

  1. Locate the Search bar at the top right corner of the Windows Explorer pane.
  2. Start typing a file name or keyword.
  3. Search will start displaying matching items even before you finish typing.
    Search bar How to use the Desktop Search

Search options and features

Search and Libraries have a few features that assist with identifying and arranging items. Tags can be added to certain items in order to improve search results. You can also rate and arrange content, like Pictures and Music, in the same manner. The Tag or Rating options are included in the Details pane, as shown below.

Windows tagAdd tags to certain files

Various search filters can be applied to assist with finding content or narrowing a search. Depending on the Library, search filters might include Type, Date Modified, Tag, or Authors. Below is an example of the search filter in the Video Library.

Search with filterSelecting a search filter option
Search with filter"Date created" search filter

For even more search options, click the Organize button near the upper-left corner of the window and select Search and folder options.

Searching from the Start Menu

The Windows Explorer pane is not the only place you can access Search and Libraries. You will find a Search bar in the Start Menu, along with one click access to popular Libraries.

SearchConducting a search from the Start Menu
LibrariesOpening Libraries from the Start Menu

A new approach to accessing content

Libraries are collections of content defined by the user. They are the new entry point for accessing your files. Therefore, when Saving items Windows 7 will direct you to Libraries. Libraries have automatic default save folders. Unless specified, your content will be saved in the default folder of the Library it matches.

  • You can change the default save folder by selecting Locations in the Tool Bar.
    Save as dialog with libraryAutomatic default save

You are not required to save or access your content through Libraries. The Navigation pane gives you access to Computer, where your folders and drives are stored. You can still sort through the tiered stacks of folders in the classic way to save and access content.

Save as dialog with foldersSave to another location

Setting up your Libraries

You decide which folders and content to include in your Libraries.

To create your own Library:

  1. Select New Library in the toolbar, or right-click Libraries in the Navigation pane.
  2. Select New and then Libraries.
    Create new LibraryCreate a new Library

To customize your Libraries:

  1. Right-click and select Properties.
  2. Select Optimize and choose one of the following:
    • General Items
    • Documents
    • Music
    • Pictures
    • Video
    Optimize LibrarySelect item type for new Library
  3. The new Library will prompt you to add Folders.

To add folders to existing Libraries:

  1. Select the Folder from the Navigation pane.
  2. Click the Include in Library menu in the toolbar.
  3. Select the desired Library.
Add files to LibraryAdd files to new Library

You can also copy Folders from the Navigation pane directly into the Libraries pane based on preference.


As we mentioned earlier, you determine what content goes into your Libraries. You can decide to use the default Libraries or create your own. Either way, you will need to take the time to move folders into the Libraries you desire.

You can still continue to access your files in the classic way of sorting through tiered stacks, but you will not be able to take advantage of the convenience of the Search function. It's a new way of accessing your files and may take some customization to work as effectively as you wish. Take some time to reconsider your filing system and how you would like to access your files.

Default Libraries