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SharePoint Library folders … or not

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When deciding to roll out SharePoint 2013, you have many decisions to make. Without considerable forethought, SharePoint quickly becomes just a different kind of junk drawer. One of the key decisions to consider is whether to use folders in SharePoint libraries. Technically, you can. But should you?

When the impetus behind SharePoint implementation is to replace shared network drive folders, in total or in part, it is tempting to simply duplicate the folder structure in libraries. This is almost always a mistake. Here’s why. The problem with network drive structures is that they are very rigid and difficult to change. This is probably why the current structure of your network folders has not changed in years, even though your business operations have. We have become so used to drilling down and down and down until we (hopefully) find the right document, that we may believe there is no other way. When you introduce SharePoint into your document world, you now have other ways to group and locate documents.

For example, let’s say you have a network drive folder for the Accounting department, and under that a folder for each year, and under that folders with the various financial statements, plus the dreaded “miscellaneous” folder. In SharePoint, you could have an Accounting Statements Library with a choice of columns called “Statement Type” and another called “Reporting Year.” One would upload the file and be required to check the year and statement type it’s associated with. You could either include a type called miscellaneous, or require that those files go in a different library to reduce clutter. You could then simply filter the Accounting Statements Library filter by year and see all the statements for that year and/or filter by statement and see that type of statement for all years. And it’s quick, no double-clicking or drilling down, and not a folder in sight.

Let’s say you were collecting these accounting statements for several subsidiaries. You’re thinking that you will now need folders, right? Well, not really. While filtering is easy enough in SharePoint, it’s also quite easy to create custom views of library data to accommodate various users’ needs. So you could still store all of the accounting statements in a single library but create a column called “Entity.” In the Library tab for your Accounting Statements Library, click Create View. Scroll down until you see Filter, then enter your view criteria.

When you are tempted to create another folder, ask yourself these questions:

  • Should this be another library?
  • Does my library simply need another column or two?
  • Can I see just what I want to see by building a custom view?

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