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- What Is SharePoint? A Guide For Beginners
- How does SharePoint work?
- How to Master SharePoint Management
- 7 Helpful Office 365, SharePoint Customization Best Practices
- 4 Essential Content Management Tips for SharePoint Online
SharePoint document libraries are like super folders. They provide a useful way to separate your files and folders to keep things clean and organized within a SharePoint site. In this post, we’ll cover some of the best things about libraries and why you want to make the most of them. Libraries aren’t just some replacement for old shared or network drives. No, no: they’re a major upgrade to the old-school file share systems.
Here’s a helpful infographic to remind you what document libraries can do. But let’s talk some specifics below.
Okay, not a killer feature. But one you’re used to and one that makes the SharePoint experience pretty similar to what you’ve been using for a while if you’re still on network drives. Organize your files in folders and subfolders to keep things clean! If they help you feel better about SharePoint, that would make folders a killer feature in my book.
Ever been hit with the dreaded “This file is locked for editing” pop-up? That pop-up is a thing of the past thanks to co-authoring. Co-authoring—available in SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online with Office 2013 or 2016—lets you and your colleagues edit the same file at the same time. At first, you may feel like you’ve lost control. You haven’t. Co-authoring eases the collaboration and review process immensely. And if you’re worried about others editing your files, consider keeping them in OneDrive or restricting the permissions until you’re ready to share.
Learn how to deploy Office 365 backup to ensure you can restore SharePoint items at a granular level without needing to roll back the entire library.
3. Offline Syncing
If you’re using SharePoint 2016 or Online, you can sync files from a document library to your computer, tablet, or mobile device with the OneDrive app. That means you can be working on shared files where you have no wi-fi (airplane, anyone?) and OneDrive will automatically push the updated file to the cloud the next time you get connected.
4. Groups, Yammer, and Teams
If you use Outlook Groups, Yammer Feeds, or Microsoft Teams, you know they each have a place to save files. But did you know those file folders are in a SharePoint site that was created specifically for that Group, Feed, or Team? Yes indeed. While many of the SharePoint features aren’t (yet) available directly in those apps, you can always open the library in SharePoint for all the goodness that I’m covering in this post.
In many cases, you need to be able to categorize your files in multiple ways. Maybe by year, office location, and document type, for instance. If you use folders, you’re stuck with one arbitrary way. You may prefer Office Location > Year > Document Type. Your colleague may prefer Year > Document Type > Office Location. It really depends on how you think and what type of work you do. But thanks to metadata, you can tag files with these multiple ideas then sort and filter your library to display the files however you prefer. Learn the basics of metadata here.
If you end up liking metadata and how you can sort and filter to show what you want, how you want it, you’ll like how SharePoint gives you the option to save that setup as a view. Once you create a view, you don’t have to manually sort and filter each time you load the library. Learn more about views here.
7. Version History
Have you ever saved a file and realized, “Whoops, I saved it after doing a lot of unintended damage. I need the old copy back!” File shares don’t have a built-in way to go back. Document libraries do. Version history lets you restore old versions, delete versions that are no longer relevant, and even revert changes made by others that you don’t want to keep. Learn more about version history here.
Did you know you can get an automated email notification if someone makes a change to a file, uploads a new file, or deletes a file in your library? This is extremely handy when you have a document out for review and want to know when your reviewers went in to make comments. Learn more about alerts here.
Instead of just uploading files, sometimes you also want quick access to links that point to other websites (even public ones). Document libraries in SharePoint 2013 need a quick tweak to enable links; libraries in SharePoint 2016 and Online include links from the start. Link away!
I hope you find these features as useful as I have. I use all these at least sometimes when using document libraries and find they really come in handy, especially when I remember all the amazing things a seemingly simple document library can do. Keep that infographic handy, too. It’s a nice way to remind yourself what you’re able to do.
Parting tip: if you’re still using SharePoint 2010 or 2013, it’s time to pester your IT department to upgrade to SharePoint 2016 or SharePoint Online. Many of these features are only available in those versions (or are at least significantly improved by them). You’ll be glad you made the upgrade.
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Hey, Matt – thanks for another great post, and infographic.
Re items 1 and 5, where Folders may leave you “stuck with one arbitrary way” of categorizing files, compared to Metadata. There’s a way to mitigate that, using both folders and metadata.
Here’s the challenge: Many content owners see their folders as anything but arbitrary, and are unwilling to give them up to rely solely on metadata. Some owners may also want to set different permissions on different folders, but have all content available in the same library.
Unfortunately it’s a pain for the content consumers, who do see those folders as both arbitrary, and difficult to browse through.
In those scenarios, it may help to use both folders and metadata, and then create a “flat” view that shows all items without folders. Now your users will have a security-trimmed view that lets them sort and filter all files that they are allowed to see from across the entire library, without respect to how the content owner(s) chose to organize them.
Agreed! That’s a tad higher level than this intro, but I do recommend this on a regular basis.
The main issue I run into with using metadata instead of folders is when users need to be able to open a pdf in Acrobat so they can edit. You can browse a SP library and use metadata to find a pdf document, but from there you can only view. If you connect to a SP site using Acrobat (which you can’t if you turn on require modern authentication), you can browse in a file explorer way, but metadata is useless at that point because it can’t be viewed/used. Same if you sync a library with OneDrive, metadata isn’t available in OneDrive desktop client. As much as I’d like to use metadata instead of folders, there are several use cases that metadata isn’t available for use by the end user. What do you suggest?