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Understanding the Libraries Feature in Windows 7

The new libraries feature in Windows 7 makes it easier to manage your files and folders. Today we take a look at how to access libraries, how to use them, and how to include network locations to the libraries as well.

The libraries feature in Windows 7 provides a central place to manage files that are located in multiple locations throughout your computer. Instead of clicking through a bunch of directories to find the files you need, including them in a library makes for quicker access.

Access Libraries

To access the libraries in Windows 7, type libraries into the search box in the Start Menu and hit Enter.

1 library

The default libraries in Windows 7 will open up in Explorer which are Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos.

2 library

Anytime you’re in Windows Explorer, you’ll be able to access libraries from the Navigation Pane.

7library

Using Libraries

In these examples we’ll take a look at the Documents Library, but the procedures will work for any library you want to add locations to. If you’ve been working in Windows 7 for a while and storing documents to the My Documents folder, when you open the Documents Library, you’ll see those documents. Some applications install folders in the My Documents folder by default and you’ll see those as well.

4library

What if you have documents stored in a folder other than My Documents? You need to add it to the Documents Library. There are a couple of ways you can go about it. Right-click on a folder and select Include in library from the context menu, then choose the Documents Library. Keep in mind that when you add a folder to a library, that folder is still in it’s original location.

5library

Or when you have the folder containing your documents open, select Include in library and choose the library to put them in from the dropdown.

6library

Here we take a look at the Documents library that contains files that are located in different places throughout the hard drive, including some on another partition.

13library 

You can also remove items from libraries as well. When you’re in a library click on the locations link.

25library  

The Documents Library Locations window opens up and from here you can add or remove locations.

26library

Create New Libraries

The default libraries are all well and good, but if you really want to take advantage of this feature, you’ll want to create your own. While in the libraries directory click on the New library button and give it a name.

20library

In this example we made a new library called Work Projects. The first time you open it you’ll be prompted to include a folder.

21library

Browse to the location with the files you want to add then click Include folder.

22library

Now the files included in that folder will show up in the new library.

23library

After you’ve created some libraries they’ll be added to the list to select from.

24library 

Add Network Locations

While libraries are a handy new feature, it’s not perfect. Not all folders can be added to libraries as Microsoft has stuck some rules on them. You can pretty much add anything from a local drive, including other volumes or partitions. External USB drives formatted as NTFS or Fat32 can be added as well. Things get kind of weird when you’re trying to add network and non-indexed locations.

10library

Thankfully there’s a handy free utility you can use that makes adding network locations a lot easier. Win7 Library Tool is small and straight forward to use. Just click on the Create a new library button.

27library

Then add the network location you want included in the library. Notice this tool will also allow you to easily change the library icon which is a neat additional feature.

31library 

In this example we’ve added a home network share that contains music files to a library named MP3 library.

33library

Conclusion

This should help get you started using Libraries in Windows 7, which at first might take some getting used to. Once you understand how they work and start creating your own, you’ll find they’re actually pretty useful. Once you get going, you’ll find the Win7 Library Tool makes adding network locations a snap. How about you? Do you use libraries in Windows 7? Leave a comment and let us know what you like or don’t like about the feature.

Download Win7 Library Tool

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/3/10

Comments (50)

  1. Kalle

    I don’t use them.

  2. Jean-Michel Paris

    Like HomeGroup, i didn’t know about this Window 7 new feature.
    Thanks for explaining that; i understand better now that is listed on the navigation panel of my explorer.

    ex: I can use ‘Libraries’ to directly include my dropbox folders with others documents.

  3. Philip

    Nice article, but I am more interested in learning how to get the old links back.

    Maybe the feature is good when you need to work with a specific subject, but when it comes to the basic music/documents/pictures folders, I would rather have my direct links back…

  4. JackCrow

    I honestly think, knowing their SharePoint determination, this is their step toward document libraries integration in next editions of Windows, and possible SharePoint portal collaboration with it.

    Today it is the folders, tomorrow they’ll persuade us to keep it on the SharePoint privately online accessible server, like Google docs.

    Only time will tell, but this feature as inconvenient as it seems like from Vista onward, looks like a conspiracy to involve SharePoint more deeply in the future, good or bad, it takes all kinds.

  5. Todd Corson

    Well, I figured I’d write something here to balance the comments out a little bit…

    I think the Libraries feature is very handy and it’s a clever idea which reduces the need for endless clicking of the mouse to get where you want to go. So far, I haven’t even bothered to install FileBox eXtender, which is what I use on my XP and Vista machines to get around Explorer and file dialogs faster.

    Really, if you don’t want to use Libraries, just don’t use them. I think Microsoft in general has done a good job in their operating systems of providing multiple options of how to do things so that users can find a method that suits their style.

    That being said, I can’t say I don’t have any complaints about the way the new Windows Explorer works – for example, scrolling the tree view around in bizarre ways when I expand a folder – but I hardly think there’s a conspiracy here!

  6. Quentin

    Not intending to be negative here, but I still don’t get it – what would you actually *use* libraries for? Everything I can think of could be done better by storing your files in a sensible file management structure in the first place. Has anyone got any practicle examples of where this feature would be beneficial?

    I’m having great difficulty getting past the thought that “If you have files which are related to each other (which you might want to see listed together for whatever reason), why would you not keep them together?”

    As we know, Windows provides multiple ways of accomplishing tasks, which is great, and if you don’t want to do something a particular way then don’t use that way, but I really would like to understand where this feature could be more useful than other ways of accomplishing the same goal.

    Regards

    Quentin.

  7. Pankaj Gupta

    @ Quentin

    dude the thing is that

    the main use of libraries is that u neednt go inside multiple folders time and again for getting something
    just tag that folder in libraries and its a shortcut to that folder contents.. if u r doing some imp work . u can temporarily make a shortcut to that folder

    I dont know abt u but i find this feature very helpful though ” I have stored myfiles in a sensible file management structure” :)

    there are certain folders which are deep inside hard disk file structure made by me.. though i use them frequently..
    libraries are used for them by me..

  8. Adrian Martin

    BIG Tip for using USB thumb drives(or Blackberrys!) with libraries. Most thumbdrives show up as removable storage and not as hard drives on the computer, which means they cannot be added to libraries.

    BUT you can use the Disk Management tools to add it! Right Click the drive in the drive management snap in and select “Change Drive Letter and Paths” add a path. Then add that path to the library.

    Now I can play the music off my blackberry without copying it to the computers hard drive, copying the music to my HD is against out companies policy.

    Other solutions for this i have seen involve HACKING the devices inf file – the above is MUCH simpler!

  9. Fzanes

    @Quentin

    The best use of libraries I have found so far, deals with how I handle pictures. I have multiple external HDs that all have pics on them, among other things. I am able to add those locations to the pictures library, and have not have to actually have them on the local disc. Just one place to go, and I have access to all my pics. Works great. A lot less clciking.

  10. Diego

    I don’t use them (2)

  11. RoyKen

    The library is very useful for people with multiple hard drives and multiple partitions, like me.. I have 3 hdds with 6 partitions.. some of them contains some videos & pictures folder that I frequently use.. so I just tagged it and I can easily find it by just clicking the start menu and go to the pictures/videos library..

  12. Jack7000

    @Quentin – here is a library example. We scan a certificate. Certificate goes directly to /cert directory as FXS file. Batch program runs and creates JPG and PDF versions stored in /JPG and /PDF directories. A single Library would provide access to ALL versions of cert with one click. Image same thing for /Thumbnails /RAW photos /webJPEGs etc. with photo files.

  13. jon

    I like the feature but cannot get it to work with SD flash drive on a netbook. It does not offer an ‘add to library’ feature on right click, and if I try it says it ‘this folder can’t be included because it is on a removable device’. Any thoughts?

  14. Kalle

    How can I delete/hide the libraries from Windows Explorer?

  15. wannaB Brain

    I am not interested in letting Windows “make things easier” fopr me. I had 26 processes running on XP. A “trim” Win7 is 44 processes. 18 Extra Processes is easier??????

    I agree with Kalie, show us how to lose them, that’s easier! Call me old-fashioned, but I will manage my files, pics, vids, etc. Windows can let me be smart enough to do my thing my way.

    Go into Users\Public and delete the library. Reboot and there it is again just wasting space IMO.

  16. Jr.

    It’s just a shortcut. I like.
    ¬¬

  17. Tim

    I’ve spent days trying to figure out how this Libraries thing works…. I’ve gotten nowhere except for creating duplicate files I prefer not to have. I can’t tell the real ones from the virtual ones… I often get denied permission to save a document to whatever folder I want because it says I do not have permission, as Administrator?!@#. It usually suggests saving it to the other Administrators folder, which I don’t want to do. I miss my XP Pro!

  18. Daniel

    personally i can’t stand the libraries, they seem like just another inconvenience. I already know where all of my files are, but i store them differently from most people. If i could i’d remove them, but i don’t know how :\. it bugs me that when i save the link, i always have to go to my documents as a second option after the libraries. just one more inconvenient step.

  19. Bobus

    I agree with Tim! I want access to my files where they are. I cant get to them if they are filed under the C:/Document and Settings folder. “Access is Denied” what’s with that?! I can still access my files in the original location? Crock City. I want the capability to access MY files when and where I want, whether it is via a Library or the specific file location.

  20. kalbo

    The only problem I see with libraries is that each one is supposedly limited to 50 folders (read this on the web somewhere) – does this include sub-folders as well, or only folders you add? (for example, my pictures folder contains several folders – is each one counted as one of the 50, or only the one I add to the library? If only the one I add is counted, then that’s great. Otherwise, libraries is a useless feature to me, I have far too many files in folders in my 1 Terabyte HDD space to be limited to 50 per library – I’ll continue to rely on FileBox Extender .

  21. Terry

    I agree with so many of the comments..I find what appears to be files and folders all over the place..it’s time consuming working out which are real and which are only shortcuts…
    furthermore when I create a file and save it , I find it’s turned it into a folder with my file “inside” it. when I only wanted a plain and simple file saved where I wanted it….I am going back to XP style folders they are far more logical.

  22. Raj

    I actually like this new feature on 7, as well as quite a few others. Right now, I have a 2TB RAID with which I store a great deal of my video footage and other data, usually to be edited or worked on later. In the past, I would use NTFS junctions to point my Documents folder on the big editing array to My Documents on the system drive. This was quite time consuming.
    With Libraries, I can add folders quickly and without too much hassle. In fact, I’ve been using symlinks to point to a secure remote system with which I sync my files so they’re easily accessible. This Win7 Tool may just make that job much easier.
    Thanks How To Geek! :D

  23. Rik

    I hate these libraries!

    I don’t want all my pics in one place. Or my docs, or my videos, or whatever. I put things in different folders for a reason. If I want some things all together I put them all together. Libraries are a useless duplication of files/virtual files.

    I like a neat, clean filing system. The libraries feature tricks you into thinking everything is in one place, but in reality you have a mess of files scattered everywhere.

    The worst part is that many files are automatically put into these libraries from other locations, without the user’s knowledge or permission. I don’t like my file system being manipulated behind my back.

    Seems to me the libraries feature is for people too lazy, ignorant, or disorganized to properly manage their files themselves, and there should be a simple way to disable them without having to resort to registry hacks.

    I resent having control of my computer taken away from me.

  24. Steve

    Backup!

    The one issue I cannot find in any of the articles on Libraries is how to back up your data.

    If I backup the Documents folder, for example, does that backup my data or just pointers to my data, thereby not a real backup.

    Here is an example. After adding a workstation to a domain, I used the Windows Easy Transfer wizard to transfer the data from the local user account to the domain user account, then used Group Policy to setup folder redirection to a server. The result? The local Documents folder showed plent of “data”, but zero documents in the Documents folder on the server. The Windows Easy Transfer wizard apparently only transferred pointers instead of real data. I had to manually copy the data from the local user to the domain user, before it would show up on the server through redirection.

    This Library feature has more hazards than benefits from what I have seen so far. It appears very easy to lose data if you are not constantly checking and rechecking.

  25. Steve

    I just noticed something that makes a difference.

    If you open the “username” item on the Start menu, it opens all your user folders the same way as on XP – so there is no reason it seems to disable the Library feature.

    Just remove the standard folders from the library as shown above in this article, and use the Libraries for special purposes.

    I have not tried this yet with folder redirection, to see if removing, for example, the Documents folder from Libraries will have an adverse affect.

  26. michel

    This is the “feature” that sent me back to Vista. Adding a virtual file system layer on top of my real files is only confusing and adds to the potential for data loss. Giving these Libraries the same name as actual folders is just dumb. There were a lot of changes in Win 7 that added nothing useful for me and required re-learning how to use my own system, and this one was just the last straw.

  27. William Stranney

    I agree with Michel. The problem with producing a “new” operating system is that the alleged benefits of the new system such as enhanced security, speedier processing of data etc.are usually invisible and always difficult to measure. So, in order to convince us that we really have a new system the “packaging” needs to be bright, colourful and very noticeable. After all, they don’t want people thinking, “this looks and seems to works just the same way my XP/Vista system worked. Is it then really different?” So, the technical folk have to create some trivial extras that show up on your screen so that you just “know” you have a new system! Some of the trivia is harmless and can be ignored or removed easily. However, first the permanent “My Documents” folder was invented. Before that you were able to create your own folder system, a very simple task which you managed according to your own wishes. Now they have upgraded the “My Documents” straitjacket with a super duper “Libraries” facility which appears to work much the same way a maze does. You try this way then you try another way. Then you turn a corner and there your file is at last. Like the My Documents folder you cannot get rid of it (without trying unoffical ‘fixes’ that is). When I wanted to find a file using Windows 3.1/95/98/XP I could do so much more easily than I now can on my new Win 7 computer. I am a very experienced computer user. Please make all the “window dressing” removable, Microsoft.

  28. Phylis Sophical

    This just sounds like another ‘whether you like it or not’ layer on top of My Documents. Can someone tell me, if actual files and links are distinguished? Like how do you know if you are looking at the actual document or a link?

    Just got an Win7 laptop but haven’t played with the libraries yet. Didn’t realize it’s so complex. I agree with those that would rather create their own structure.

  29. Ray

    The article helps. I have been doing the same thing when I have a class to teach. Before win7 I would make a separate folder. All files related to the class was placed into it. Saves me from searching for them each time. Now a simple library does the same thing. After class,delete the library. Original files are left untouched.

  30. Steve

    Libraries seem to be totally useless so far. Have sound files from a program now under documents. If I delete them, lost the sound from the program. The old My Documents made so much more sense. I finally started putting documents in another drive just to get away from this stupid feature. 30 years computer experience.

  31. Jinnie

    Soooo glad to discover that I’m not crazy, other people hate (and want to disable) this stupid Libraries feature, too! I had Windows 7 on my personal laptop when purchased, and was happily able to ignore it for ages because I hated it so much (and didn’t do much there that required organizing docs)…and dang-nabbit if now my new work computer has it too – I am now stuck with it, and not happy. I really hate they way they add new “features” to an upgrade that make us invest time, energy and frustration into figuring out how to use something that’s worse than the way it used to be (or, how I can I do it the most like the way I used to). I have converted my personal computer to a Mac and my sense is that, not only are things designed intuitively from the get-go, they aren’t completely re-designed without reason during upgrades. Ok, now my vent is over…not really, but you get the idea loud and clear…

  32. BillGC - Australia

    Hi’ dudes, – re LIBRARIES… dir!!!
    I have to agree with most of the comments above. I have been using windows since its beginning (Win 3.1/3.11, 95,98, Xp etc.). For heavens sake when will microsoft get the message, the old KISS theory – Keep It Simple Stupid…. Millions of us around the world have been using the old ‘file-manager’ come ‘explorer’ for years; we all know how to use a filing system and how to set it up in a simple structure to suit our own needs, whether for business, home, school or whatever… I think this is the ‘last-straw’ for me, the ‘Apple’ has always had simple ‘finder’ for file-management, easy to use, quick to access your files the way you want to. I have simply had enough of the ‘Microsoft-Machine’.
    APPLE IS NOW GETTING ANOTHER CUSTOMER….

  33. bob

    I keep my own structure (typically by year, then project) for data. Sometime in January, I change ‘My Documents’ to point to the new year (d:\1data\11proj\), and copy ‘active projects’ into the new year (d:\1data\11proj\ABC_client), and put a shortcut back to the previous year LastYear = d:\1data\10proj

    I am sure the intention of Libraries is to expand and enhance that, but I am still not seeing how to easily manage the creation side of the process for multiple ‘tags’ or libraries. It could be too many years without tools geared around the tagging mindset.

  34. SuAlfons

    We are to keep all project data on server drives (which cannot be added to libs by default).
    Plus I found all files I put into my “documents” folder to be synched to the profile-server (killing my profile, since there is a quota on the size of that).
    So I continue to do what I have done on XP: Have temporary files in C:\Data (mostly simulation models in their won folder structure) and have presentatations and analysis directly on the server share (also in a huge shared hirarchy).

    I use the “Links” part of the new explorer, never the libraries (they are empty) and hardly the the now crippled tree view. I do actually use FreeCommanderPortable from an SD-card for having all folders important to a given task in “visual reach”.

    Also, I cannot decide on what mode of the new taskbar I find most appropriate. I always thought of myself as computer savvy and flex-minded. But I find the most old-looking way to be the most effective mode – but it’s also the ugliest :-(

    For a personal computer, I made the jump for a Mac 1.5 yrs ago, with a virtual WinXP for the ever smaller pool of Windows-only software I need to use.

  35. Reality

    You can tell me turds taste great and I’ll agree with you while you sit and eat them.

  36. JonF

    I’m still checking this out, and I see pros and cons. First, let’s face it MS is going SharePoint. If you don’t believe that install a new version of MS Office 2010 and if you’ve got any experience with SharePoint 2010 you’ll see the similarities right away.

    Pros:
    1. From a user perspective, file organization and backup process can be simplified. For example the My Documents folder is a hodge podge of a mess when nearly every program you install will create a folder in. Visual Studio projects, FireFox file download folder etc. When I back up My Documents I don’t want to back up every file I downloaded with FireFox so I’ve been using other methods and simple shortcuts to accomplish the same task. IMHO the My Documents folder has always been a pain in the butt so yeah it needed fixed.

    Con’s:
    1. change… folks don’t like it when you ‘move their cheese’. When Vista came out a lot of folks freaked out and wanted XP back. As a gammer and web developer I’m not interest in XP or IIS 6 and if you haven’t noticed ALL new releases of web browsers have advanced functions that are not available in XP so you will need Win7 get used to that idea right away.

    2. From a corporate stand point there is a lot of challenges. Sys Admins aren’t enthusiastic about the change and the new Group Policy issues MS has introduced have a steep learning curve. Then there is ‘Suzy Secretary’ that will need more training, definitely a con. Then there is the network share issue which is very bad and I sure don’t want another third party tool to support for hundreds of users.

    At the moment I see more cons than pros but I’m still learning this new stuff and I can’t get rid of XP fast enough. Don’t get my wrong XP is very stable, tried and true, but Win7 is very much superior. Learn it, live it, love it.

  37. Louis Payton

    Either I just don’t know how to use this app or it is really messed up. Mine has been collecting emails from Windows Live Mail, script files from all over and even Facebook wall messages and pictures. I want to either disable it or delete it.

  38. Mr. Papaya

    My situation is that I like the way things were done before because I’m a fastidious organiser, myself. I don’t like the way they organise things, I like to do things my own way and won’t be told otherwise. Microsoft must at least add an option to turn these ugly, intrusive and excessively-nannying features off. I don’t want to hear about how great Libraries are, I know that *you* might think they’re the cat’s pyjamas, but that means absolutely nothing to me, I couldn’t care less. Libraries are less organised than I am and it is frustrating to not have instant, direct access to my folders.

  39. Mark

    I read this article and for the first time went and drilled down through the libraries to say.. the sample pictures. I see 6 or so JPGs. It said “Arrange by: Folder”. OK… me thinks – I’m learning this new library thing – what options do I have here. I tried all the other options in the drop down with the results showing “This folder is empty”.

    Think about that…! If this folder contained a bunch of important files and I was looking for them now I can’t even see them!!! Take it one step further, maybe I just delete this “empty” folder….!

    Even if I’m using this whole library thing wrong, the potential to not find or even delete files is just way too dangerous!

    So far my overall experience with W7 has reduced my productivity by half. It’s all gloss with no substance….

  40. Dorhy Thorpy

    Just another layer of pointless confusion.

    When saving documents etc, you quite often end up in a folder (library) where you can’t even put a shortcut.

    I don’t want to be forced in to an avenue decided uopon by someone else, I have may way of doing things and this just gets in the way.

    It is pretty arogant of M$ to assume we will all use this, Ok for the youger generations they won’t know any different, but I have used 5 versions of windows without libraries, so where is the choice.

    Instead I have to use a “hack” on a operating system I paid a £100 for, M$ should build in a feature to turn off libraries.

  41. Bill Adams

    I agree with others who fail to see any concrete user benefits of the library virtual folder system. I am nervous about a registry hack, so I just bypass the libraries. Having to do this annoys me to no end and makes me offer a silent curse to Microsoft every time. The most annoying features of libraries are:
    1. It jerks around the Win Explorer screen when I open it. I Click directly on My Documents, and that opens, but before I can click on the folder I want there, Win Explorer has jerked the screen up and set the cursor on default “Libraries.” Therefore i must AGAIN scroll down to the desired folder in My Documents. Microsoft wasting my time is unforgiveable.
    2. Libraries have no memory. Every time you got to save as, or use a program to open a file, the system defaults to Libraries, even if you have been working in a particular folder all day and opening and saving things. AGAIN you must scroll down and click your way to the desired folder. Again, time is wasted, and again Microsoft earns a vehement curse.

    3. I haven’t a clue how one would write the script for the backup program if one were using libraries.

    I can imagine (barely) where Libraries might be useful in pulling together disparate links for a special project, such as files from My Documents, Web links, and files from My Pictures. I store pictures and videos and music separately from documents because they are all backed up on different schedules: documents daily, pictures weekly, etc. So it might be nice to bring selected items together from these files for a project. But that comes up so rarely, I have never been tempted to try Libraries to do it. I just use shortcuts.

  42. Richard H

    My feeling is expressed by many others above. This “Libraries” feature simply complicates my ability to organizate and manipulate my of files. After messign with it for close to a month, although there may be a solution I have not found, I am still not able to see file extensions on my files in folders. For example, I may want to find and convert all .wmv files to .mpeg., but there is no extension showing on my video files in folders so I can’s sort and select them accordingly.

    I find similar complexities in viewing files via Windows Media Player.

    This “new world order” of Windows 7 may just be the breaking point where people/consumers feel that it may be easier to buy an Apple product for their next purchase.

  43. Gale

    Appears to me the majority agree the library is a PIA..lol I agree. I have just been putting off reading all this.
    Now….Out with the library.
    I also do my own organizing.
    Think this is bad…Wait till Win 8. eeekkkkk
    Have a look see. YOUTUBE has a bunch of videos on it.
    Talk about apps…Everything will be apps.
    Will we be forced to adapt..???
    Yeah, old school here and was a comp tech in years past. To old for that now.
    Keeping up is a pain and very time consuming.
    I like simple.
    Cheers, and thanks for all the info.
    Off to disable.
    Gale

  44. RGADAWG

    MS did not need to try and reinvent the wheel. Libraries is fancy file management, and more confusing than just learning file management and shortcuts. My problem with it is that it does things automatically, that I have not authorized. Like, remove a particular DIR from library, it disappears from the explorer list, although my file manager show it correctly.

  45. KAREN

    I totally agree with Rik 10/10 and Jinni 2/77

    I have duplicate files running rampid! Someone please tell me how to clean this mess up with out deleting my important documents !

  46. Tom

    I don’t use libraries. I don’t plan on using libraries. How do I switch this function off? I want things as simple as possible, then add complexity where and when I want it.

  47. Simon

    I can’t comprehend the hubris of the MS design crew enforcing the use of their ‘improvements’ to the various user interfaces. I just hate it.

  48. annie

    I just clicked something along the lines of” uninclude this folder” on my picture folder- and now all of my pictures are gone. they arent in the recycle bin, I cannot find them anywhere. Do you happen to know what I did, and how I can undo it? I just completed system restore and it didnt fix anything. Please, I’m begging for help.

  49. Espen

    I really don’t see how you can not use them. And learning about their various features and advantages really helps. Thanks for this, I have now totally reorganised my computer.

  50. Lydia HF

    I roger most negative comments above. My real concern is how to do a backup. I have my old hard drive on an external drive and frequently use and revise those files. If only a link is on the C drive, what will be backed.up? I’ve not yet seen an answer to this question.

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