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The utility of proprietary application object libraries has been greatly diminished with modern innovations such as placing native format graphic files (e.g., PSD, AI, PDF) into the layout; the ability to place one InDesign file as an asset inside another; snippets; accessible visual digital asset managers (DAMs); and the ability to drag and drop pictures from a DAM, the file system (e.g., OS X Finder and Windows Explorer), and other applications. Once upon a time, a library palette was the pinnacle of convenience and productivity. Now, libraries are no longer essential, but they’re still very handy for improving efficiency in many solo and group workflows. Besides, they’re kind of fun.
Libraries are floating, mini DAMs inside InDesign (see Figure A). They allow objects created or placed in InDesign to be duplicated and placed elsewhere in the same or other documents without copying and pasting. Objects added to a library may be linked images that are, in reality, scattered about one or more hard drives or network resources. Library assets can be text frames (with or without text), native InDesign paths, objects with effects, groups of objects, even an entire page. These objects can be arranged and sorted in various ways within the library and then added to a document simply by dragging them out of the library and dropping on the page or pasteboard.
If you’re a freelancer with no repeat clients or the print shop’s in-house document fixer, you probably won’t have much use for libraries these days. I recommend everyone else at least try using a library—or two, three, or more—because having at your fingertips all your frequently used objects can save massive amounts of time and effort over other methods of inserting objects. Consider some of the following uses:
- All your company’s or client’s logos can be stored—versions in RGB, CMYK process, CMYK plus spot colors, grayscale, black and white; logos with and without the tagline; full logos; iconic logos.
- Advertising-supported publications can store all their variously sized ad space placeholders and ready-for-content frames in a library ready for drag-and-drop placement (instead of keeping a list of ad sizes taped to the side of the monitor).
- Periodicals, catalogs, and other longer documents that use several layout templates for different types of pages can insert each page layout—inclusive of its text frames, graphic frames, and all other elements—as a single library entry and place all the pieces onto a blank page by dragging just one entry from the library.
- Photos and illustrations slated as potential use in a document can be collected from various sources and locations and organized together into a library for side-by-side evaluation.
- Any object or bit of text used once in a while in documents created for the same client or project can be collected into a library, keeping them always available for the next new document for the client or in the project.
Now that you’re beginning to see the value of libraries, let’s make one:
1. Open or create a document with several objects on a given page. These can be any type of object—text, placed imagery, paths drawn in InDesign, and so on.
2. Choose File >New >Library. InDesign will prompt you to save the library, which creates
an INDL file.
InDesign suggests the default name of Library.INDL. Don’t use the default. Give the library a meaningful name. If this will be a library of logos for your client XYZ Corp., name the file XYZ Logos.INDL and save it in the folder where you save XYZ Corp. assets or documents. If you use libraries well, you’ll probably find yourself creating them for several clients, projects, and other purposes. Naming them all Library.INDL and saving them to a default location like My Documents or your Home folder won’t seem like a very smart decision when you need to archive all documents related to one client or project to DVD-ROM.
3. After you save the library, a new panel will appear bearing as its title the filename you chose (e.g., XYZ Logos). The library itself will be blank. One at a time, select objects on the document page and drag them into your library panel. Notice how each becomes a new library entry with a thumbnail and Untitled as its legend. We’ll set aside the legend for now.
4. Move to another page in the document, and then drag an object out of the library panel onto the page. An exact duplicate of the original object appears on the page.
5. Create a new document (File >New >Document), and then do the same, dragging an object from the library panel onto the page. Now think about doing that for an identity package, quickly adding the client’s logo and textual information—in the correct colors and typefaces—across the business card, letterhead, envelope, and other layouts.

Adding items to a library, as you saw, is as easy as drag and drop. If you need to add several items from the same page, however, there’s an easier way. On the library panel’s flyout menu, choose Add Items on Page or Add Items on Page as Separate Objects. The former adds all items on the page as a single library entry. Thus, if your page contains five objects, all five will be added as a single library entry. Dragging that entry from the panel to the page places all five objects back into the document simultaneously and as five separate objects. The latter menu command, Add Items on Page as Separate Objects, adds all items on the page as separate entries, one per object. A trick to quickly and easily populate a library is to place assets onto a page by dragging and dropping from their various locations in Bridge, Finder/Explorer, or elsewhere and then, once all objects are on the page, use the As Separate Objects command.
To delete items in the library, drag the items to the trashcan icon at the bottom, select them in the palette and click the trashcan icon, or select items and use the Delete Item(s) command on the flyout.
Each item may have a title, a type, and a description. Double-click the item or choose Item Information from the panel menu to open the Item Information dialog (see Figure B). In a library with only a handful of items, names, description, and object type—collectively meta information— aren’t very important because organization will be done visually. However, with larger libraries, or when the thumbnail detail in the panel isn’t sufficient to differentiate items, adding meta information can be very helpful. Give the item a name and, optionally, a description. And then choose the type of object—image, EPS, PDF, Text, InDesign File (INDD), Structure (e.g., XML code chunk), Page (an entire page of objects as a single item), or Geometry (a vector path). None of the meta information is required; its only purpose is to help you or someone else find and identify items.
Large libraries may be sorted by, filtered to, and searched for specific items. All of these features depend on the meta information attached to each item. To search or filter the list, click the binoculars icon at the bottom of the panel (refer back to Figure A), or choose Show Subset from the panel flyout menu. Up will pop the Show Subset dialog (Figure C), which allows you to search across potentially thousands of library items (in the same library) for data that does or does not appear as Item Name, Creation Date, Object Type, or Description meta information. In fact, if you click the More Choices button, additional parameter rows may be added for highly focused searching and filtering. When you click OK, the library panel will filter to show only those results matching the query. To clear the query and see all items in the library, choose Show All from the menu.
If, when adding content from a library to a new document, you choose an entry that includes a linked placed asset, the Links panel in the new document will show a link to the original asset just like the entry that appears on the Links panel in the document from which you dragged the object into the library. It’s important to recognize that linked assets are not stored within the library any more than they are stored within documents; in both documents and libraries, only the link—the actual location on disk—is recorded. Don’t make the common mistake of adding a linked image to a library and then deleting the original from your hard drive. If the object included any custom swatches, strokes, or paragraph, character, table, cell, or object styles, they will be added to their respective panels as well. Items in a library are independent of their original instances, the ones from which they were created. Similarly, items placed on the page from a library are not tied to the library instances.
Changing one does not update the other. Think of a library as a sort of copy and paste operation; when copying and pasting, neither the original nor duplicate will update to reflect changes in the other. The same is true of library items. On the flyout menu, the Update Library Item command lights up when an object is selected on the page. Executing that command will replace the selected library item with the object selected on the page. That will not, however, alter any instances of the original library item added to the document. It only changes the copy stored in the library. Confused? Let’s try an example. Say you’ve created a black square as a library object and then dragged that black square from the library onto a document page. You now have two distinct, unrelated black squares—one on the page, one in the library. On the page, you can recolor the square to green, but the version in the library will remain black. Similarly, if you change the color of the black square in the library to blue, the copy on the page remains black (or green). Deleting one instance also doesn’t affect the other.
You may have more than a single library open at any given time, and libraries are not dependent on a particular document. I, for instance, often work with several libraries at once, and with numerous documents, depending on the client or project. Except for the fact that library panels are tied to specific external files, they behave like any other panel—they can be docked, tabbed, stacked, rolled up, rearranged, and resized. Their inventory can be sorted by name, by newest or oldest addition, or by the type of asset, all from the Sort Items menu on the panel flyout menu. Closing a library is as simple as clicking the close button in its title bar or choosing Close library from the flyout menu; open libraries with InDesign’s File >Open command. InDesign saves libraries automatically every few minutes, so changes you make to the panel’s inventory are saved almost as you make them. Libraries can be shared from one user to the next, which is among the most productive features of libraries for workgroups. If the library contains linked images, they will work as long as everyone using the library has access to the same images in the same path. Otherwise, InDesign will prompt them to locate missing links as it would with any document.


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