Windows 8.1 brings some interesting changes to the libraries concept that was first introduced in Windows 7. The most evident change is that their role is being downplayed and, by default, the libraries are no longer visible as a separate section in File Explorer. Besides this change there are other subtle but important changes which I will detail in this article.
Change Nr 1 - Libraries are Hidden from File Explorer
As mentioned in the introduction, File Explorer no longer displays the Libraries section. It has been replaced by SkyDrive.
But what about the new This PC section? It displays folders like Documents, Music, Pictures. Are they actual libraries? Unfortunately not. The shortcuts in This PC only take you to the user's standard folders, not the user's standard libraries.
This change also impacts the Save As dialogue, shown whenever you want to save your work in all kinds of Windows programs. Since the Libraries section is now hidden, you can no longer save your work with ease to your libraries.
Luckily, this whole problem can be fixed relatively easily. You only have to follow the steps mentioned in this article, to bring back the Libraries section: Introducing Windows 8.1: How to Get Back the Libraries in File Explorer.
Change Nr 2 - Libraries No Longer Include Public Folders
In Windows 8.1, if you access the properties of any library, you will notice another important change: it no longer contains public folders.
For example, in the past, the Pictures library contained the user's Pictures folder found at "C:\Users\Your Username\Pictures" and the public Pictures folder found at "C:\Users\Public\Pictures".
In Windows 8.1, it only contains the Pictures folder found at "C:\Users\Your Username\Pictures".
This change is subtle and it won't have an impact on most users. That's because very few users actually use the Public folder to share content with others on their computer or their network. If you would like to learn more about this folder and how it can be used, read this tutorial: Simple Questions: What is the Public Folder & How to Use it?.
Things that remain the same in Windows 8.1
Even though the libraries are hidden in Windows 8.1, their role and benefits remain the same, if you choose to unhide them. The way they work remains the same and their content is still indexed by Windows 8.1, in order to provide fast search results.
Also, Windows 8.1 apps like Photos or features like File History continue to work well with Libraries.
If you would like an overview of the benefits provided by libraries in Windows and how to use them, read this guide: How to Use Libraries for Managing Groups of Files & Folders in Windows.
Personally, I do not like the changes performed to the Libraries feature in Windows 8.1. It is true that some people do not use them. Providing the option to hide them is great for this category of users. But, libraries are useful and provide productivity benefits that justify their use and promotion in File Explorer. Then again, I might be in minority regarding this topic. Are you using the Libraries and how do you feel about the changes performed in Windows 8.1?