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4 ways to configure SharePoint Document Library and organize documents

In this blog post, my goal is to explain the four available options when it comes to configuring SharePoint Document Library. Each of the four methods below is unique and selecting a particular option depends on a number of variables like the types of documents to be stored in SharePoint Document Library, how well they need to be organized, etc. As such, for each of the options, I also list particular use cases, as well as pros and cons of each method.

So here we go, the four ways to configure SharePoint Document Library:

Method 1: Folders

If you have been following my previous blog posts, you know by now, that I am not a huge fan of using folders. So not to repeat myself, here is a link to the blog post that lists reasons to stay away from folders in SharePoint. With that being said, folders do have their purpose in SharePoint.

Folders are best for:

  1. Quick way to store files in SharePoint
  2. Teams that don’t need strict control over their documents
  3. Smaller teams
  4. Situations where unique “per folder” security or permission is required

Pros:

  1. Little or no setup required

Cons:

Too many to list. Reference this link instead

Method 2: Metadata

SharePoint Metadata presents a nice alternative to organizing documents in the SharePoint Document Library. I have written a pretty detailed guide on how to setup metadata in this blog post here. Essentially, you assign some common properties (tags) to each of the files uploaded to SharePoint document library. Once every document is tagged, you can easily group, sort or filter on a given property of the document (i.e., Document Category, Client Name, etc.)

metadata_example

Metadata is best for:

  1. Teams that require standardization of their documentation
  2. Teams that need ability to easily find documents
  3. Anytime when you have lots of people uploading and accessing the files
  4. Larger teams

Pros:

  1. Organizes documents in a presentable fashion
  2. Allows for filtering, grouping, sorting of documents based on their properties
  3. Improves User Adoption of SharePoint
  4. Excellent way for newbies to find the right documents

Cons:

  1. Requires setup before documents can be uploaded to SharePoint Document Library
  2. No out of the box ability to set permissions based on metadata (the whole SharePoint Document library will have same permissions)
  3. “Open with Windows Explorer” and “Sync to desktop” no longer makes sense as there are no folders (all files sit in 1 flat library/folder)

Method 3: Content Type

The method described above (adding metadata columns to SharePoint Document Library) has 1 flaw in it. All the files that are uploaded to that document library have to fit the same profile in terms of metadata. For example, if you are uploading invoices, you might tag them by Client Name. But what if you are uploading Meeting minutes or Agenda document from the last meeting you had? Tagging against Client Name does not make much sense. You want to tag against let’s say a meeting date (date field). What do you do now? Create a whole separate SharePoint Document Library? Luckily, SharePoint has a solution for that. It is called SharePoint Content Type. I documented step-by-step instructions on how to create a Document Management System using multiple content types. Check it out here.

Essentially, Content Type allows you to create categories (types of content) for a single SharePoint document library. So if you are uploading invoices, it will prompt you to tag against Client Names. If you are uploading meeting minutes – it will ask you to tag with a particular meeting date. For each content type (read: type of content) – you can specify which columns of metadata would apply.

content type_example

Content Types are best for:

  1. Situations where there is a mix of different document types that need to be stored in a single SharePoint Document Library
  2. Teams that required standardization of their documentation
  3. Teams that need ability to easily find documents
  4. Anytime time when you have lots of people uploading and accessing the files
  5. Larger teams
  6. Teams that have high turn-over (i.e. non-profits, volunteers)

Pros:

  1. Allows to store different types of documents in a single SharePoint document library
  2. Organizes documents in a presentable fashion
  3. Allows for filtering, grouping, sorting of documents based on their properties
  4. Improves User Adoption of SharePoint
  5. Excellent way for newbies to find the right documents
  6. Reduces overhead with creation and maintenance of additional document libraries/sites

Cons:

  1. Requires even greater setup before documents are uploaded to SharePoint Document Library
  2. No out of the box ability to set permissions based on metadata or content type (the whole SharePoint Document library will have same permissions)
  3. “Open with Windows Explorer” and “Sync to desktop” no longer makes sense as there are no folders (all files seat in 1 flat library/folder)

Method 4: Document Sets

The last available method to organize documents in SharePoint Document Library is via Document Sets. Document Set is a perfect marriage of both worlds (folders and metadata). The beauty of SharePoint document sets is that it creates a dedicated page for each “folder” (behind the scenes there is an actual folder, but for the user, it looks like a web page with files). Each Document Set “page” serves as a mini-site that contains some basic information + documents themselves.

I published a detailed post about the Document Sets and how to set them up. Check it out here.

Document Sets are best for:

  1. Organizations/teams that run lots of mini-projects
  2. Teams that need to ease their users who are too attached to folders into metadata concept
  3. Situations where unique security/permission are required for each “folder” (document set)

Pros:

  1. Ability to set unique permissions for different document sets (folders)
  2. Organizes documents in a presentable fashion
  3. Allows for “light” project management without overhead of creating multiple sites/libraries
  4. Allows for quite an extensive filtering, grouping, sorting of documents based on their properties
  5. Improves User Adoption of SharePoint

Cons:

  1. Requires setup before documents are uploaded to SharePoint Document Library
  2. Overall library size might be a concern (i.e.. 5,000 items view threshold limit) as all document sets/folders physically sit in same SharePoint Document Library
  3. Best for mini-projects. No ability to add additional Project Management web parts to the mini project site (document set). If additional Project management capability is required – provisioning separate project sites is recommended.

 

About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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