(Part 7 of How to Use SharePoint series)

Search SharePointBefore looking at document libraries, there should be a discussion on metadata. Understanding metadata and its uses will go a long way to successfully planning and using document libraries. Most SharePoint implementations I’ve seen take a rather rudimentary route regarding document libraries. I’ve said it many times before: they are used as glorified file shares.

In fact, a document library is probably worse than a pure data share, because your file size is restricted.

Only when you start using metadata will you fully grasp why SharePoint document libraries are so  beneficial. You’ve probably heard by now the standard definition of metadata: “It’s data about data.” Um. Okay. What does that really mean? And more importantly: how does metadata help me do my job faster and easier?

Data About Data

Chances are you’ve been using metadata in a computer setting for quite some time, even if you didn’t know it. Create a Word document, give it a name, save it, and then browse to it with Windows Explorer. The actual content of the file is data. The filename helps identify the contents of the file. If you use Details View in Windows Explorer even more metadata is displayed. Created By, Modified By, File Size – this information is all considered metadata.

Metadata helps identify the contents of the data.

If you’re looking for a Word doc, most of the time you’re looking for the filename, because that’s how you remember it. But really, you are looking for the contents of the file, whether it be an invoice, a product manual, or a contract. The filename is just something that helps you locate the content.

But you can use any of the other metadata to help. If you remember the invoice you’re looking for was created last week, you can sort by Created Date and find the file. If it was a product manual that you changed just yesterday, sort by Modified Date and easily locate the correct document.

This is how most computer users have become accustomed to locating their files, by using the metadata.

SharePoint allows for the same methodology, but the concept is taken even further.

SharePoint Metadata

Let’s have a look. This is a sample of a typical SharePoint document library in use in enterprises (and small companies) all over the world. I know. I’ve seen many of them. This library stores invoices. As you can see, the idea of folders has been brought over from the days of file shares. Because that’s what we’re used to, that’s what most people do with document libraries – create folders. Again, this sample is typical in that the folders are by year.

sample folders

Let’s say you need to find an Invoice from Arnold Insect Terminators from last year that was over $500.00. It’s relatively easy to do so:

  1. Click on last year’s folder
  2. Sort by Created Date
  3. Scroll and find the invoice
  4. Because there’s multiple ones, open each one
  5. Find the one(s) that are over $500.00

Let’s take a look at how this could have been made easier. Because we knew when we created this library that it would be storing invoices, we had a little pow-wow and answered one simple question: What criteria do people use most often when searching invoices? After a little brain-storming we came up with this:

  1. They search by Created Date
  2. They search by Company
  3. They search by Invoice Amount
  4. They search by Invoice Number

Using any combination of the above, someone should be able to easily find the invoice they need. Even better, using any combination of the above, someone should be able to easily find the INVOICES they need.

In the next post I’ll illustrate how this translates to metadata in a SharePoint document library and how applying metadata makes your life easier.

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