Lists vs. Libraries in SharePoint Online: A Comprehensive Comparison
22 September 2023
If your organization is considering adopting Microsoft SharePoint Online, one of the fundamental decisions you’ll face is how to structure your data. SharePoint provides two primary options for organizing information: Lists and Libraries. Understanding the differences between these two components is crucial for optimizing your SharePoint experience. In this comprehensive article, we’ll delve deep into the world of SharePoint Lists and Libraries, comparing their features, benefits, and use cases to help you make an informed decision.
Introduction to SharePoint Lists and Libraries
Microsoft SharePoint is a robust platform for collaboration, document management, and data storage. It empowers organizations to create, share, and manage content and resources effectively. At the core of SharePoint’s data organization are Lists and Libraries. These are versatile tools that can be customized to meet a wide range of business needs.
What are SharePoint Lists?
SharePoint Lists are, at their essence, structured data repositories. They allow you to store, view, and manage data in a tabular format. Each list consists of rows (items) and columns (fields) where you can input and categorize information. Lists are highly customizable, and you can create various types, such as custom lists, task lists, calendar lists, and more.
Key Features of SharePoint Lists
- Customizability and Structured Data Management
One of the primary strengths of SharePoint Lists is their customizability. You can create Lists tailored to your organization’s specific needs. For instance, imagine you’re managing a project with multiple team members, tasks, and deadlines. You can create a custom SharePoint List with columns for task names, assigned team members, due dates, and task statuses. This structured approach makes it easy to track progress, identify bottlenecks, and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
Customizability extends to the creation of custom forms. SharePoint provides tools to design forms for data entry into Lists. These forms can include validation rules, drop-down menus, and other controls to ensure data accuracy and consistency.
- Integration with Microsoft 365 Services
SharePoint Lists are seamlessly integrated with the broader Microsoft 365 ecosystem. This means that you can easily connect Lists to other Microsoft 365 apps such as Outlook, Excel, and Power Automate to automate processes and enhance collaboration.
For example, you can create a SharePoint List to track customer inquiries. Whenever a new inquiry is added to the List, you can set up an automated workflow using Power Automate to send a notification email to the relevant team members in Outlook. This integration streamlines communication and ensures prompt responses to customer inquiries.
- Workflow Automation
Workflow automation is a powerful feature of SharePoint Lists. Through Power Automate, you can automate repetitive tasks and complex business processes. Here are some examples of how workflow automation can be applied to Lists:
- Approval Workflows: You can create approval workflows that automatically route items for review and approval by designated individuals. For instance, a purchase request in a SharePoint List can trigger an approval workflow, with notifications sent to managers for their review.
- Notification Workflows: Notifications can be automated to inform team members of important changes or upcoming deadlines. For instance, when a due date in a task List is approaching, an automated notification can be sent to the responsible team member’s email.
- Data Validation Workflows: You can implement data validation rules using workflows. For example, if a List contains financial data, a workflow can be set up to validate that all entries meet specific financial criteria. Workflow automation not only saves time but also ensures consistency and reduces the risk of human error in business processes.
- Permissions and Security
SharePoint Lists provide granular control over permissions and security. You can define who can access, edit, or delete items in a List. This level of control is essential for organizations that deal with sensitive data.
For example, in an HR-related List containing employee information, you can restrict access to only HR personnel and authorized managers while preventing other employees from viewing or editing the data.
Versioning is another valuable feature of SharePoint Lists. When versioning is enabled, SharePoint keeps track of changes made to items in a List over time. This historical record of changes is invaluable for auditing, compliance, and troubleshooting.
For example, suppose you have a List containing project requirements. With versioning enabled, you can review the history of changes to each requirement, identifying who made the changes and when. This helps maintain a clear audit trail and ensures accountability.
Types of SharePoint Lists
SharePoint provides several types of Lists to cater to different data management needs. Let’s briefly explore some of these:
- Issue Tracker: The Issue Tracker SharePoint List is used to log, track, and manage various types of issues or problems within an organization. It allows teams to document issues, assign responsibilities, set priorities, and monitor their resolution.
- Employee Onboarding: The Employee Onboarding SharePoint List is designed to streamline and document the process of welcoming new employees. It includes tasks such as document submission, training schedules, and equipment provisioning to ensure a smooth onboarding experience.
- Event Itinerary: The Event Itinerary SharePoint List serves as a centralized repository for organizing and planning events. It includes details such as event dates, locations, schedules, guest lists, and any other information needed to execute successful events.
- Asset Manager: The Asset Manager SharePoint List is used to keep track of an organization’s assets, such as computers, equipment, or vehicles. It helps in managing asset assignments, maintenance schedules, and tracking their lifecycle.
- Recruitment Tracker: The Recruitment Tracker SharePoint List is essential for HR departments. It assists in managing the recruitment process, from posting job openings to candidate evaluations, interviews, and hiring decisions.
- Travel Request: The Travel Request SharePoint List streamlines the process of requesting and approving business-related travel. It includes information about travel dates, destinations, budgets, and approval workflows.
- Work Progress Tracker: The Work Progress Tracker SharePoint List enables teams to monitor the status of ongoing projects and tasks. It includes information on project milestones, timelines, assigned team members, and progress updates.
- Content Scheduler: The Content Scheduler SharePoint List is utilized for content planning and scheduling. It helps content teams manage publication dates, topics, authors, and content distribution across various platforms.
- Playlist: The Playlist SharePoint List may be used in media or entertainment contexts. It helps organize and schedule playlists for music, videos, or other multimedia content, making it easy to manage and play them in different settings.
- Gift Ideas: The Gift Ideas SharePoint List is ideal for businesses that curate gift suggestions. It includes details about gift options, prices, recipient preferences, and links to purchase items.
- Expense Tracker: The Expense Tracker SharePoint List assists employees in recording and tracking their expenses for reimbursement purposes. It can include expense categories, amounts, receipts, and approval workflows.
- Recipe Tracker: The Recipe Tracker SharePoint List could be used in culinary or food-related businesses. It stores recipes, ingredients, and preparation steps, and can be a valuable resource for chefs and culinary teams.
What are SharePoint Libraries?
SharePoint Libraries, on the other hand, are repositories for files and documents. They are similar to folders or file directories but provide advanced features for SharePoint document management. Libraries enable you to store, organize, and collaborate on files, making them an essential component for document-centric workloads.
Key Features of SharePoint Libraries
- Document Management and Collaboration
SharePoint Libraries are the go-to solution for document management and collaboration. They excel at organizing, storing, and sharing files and documents across teams and departments. Here are some key features that make Libraries essential for document-centric workloads:
SharePoint Libraries offer check-in/check-out functionality. When a user checks out a document, it becomes locked for editing by others. This prevents conflicts and ensures that multiple users don’t inadvertently edit the same document simultaneously. When the document is checked back in, changes are saved, and it becomes available for others to edit.
- Version History
Just like SharePoint Lists, Libraries also support version history. This feature keeps track of changes made to documents over time. If someone makes changes to a document that are later deemed undesirable, you can easily revert to a previous version.
- Integration with Microsoft 365
SharePoint Libraries are deeply integrated with other Microsoft 365, enhancing their functionality and usability. Here are some ways this integration benefits document management:
- Outlook Integration: You can easily send documents stored in SharePoint Libraries as email attachments directly from Outlook. This reduces the need to download files locally and streamlines communication.
- Excel Integration: SharePoint Libraries can be linked to Excel spreadsheets. This enables users to view and edit spreadsheet data stored in a Library directly in Excel, maintaining a single source of truth for data.
- PowerPoint Integration: For presentations stored in Libraries, you can open and edit them directly in PowerPoint. Any changes made are automatically saved back to the Library.
- OneDrive for Business: OneDrive for Business is tightly integrated with SharePoint Libraries. You can sync Libraries to your local device using OneDrive, making it easy to access and edit documents offline. Any changes made are automatically synced back to the Library when you’re online.
- Access Control
SharePoint Libraries offer robust access control capabilities. You can specify who can view, edit, or delete documents within a Library. This level of control ensures that sensitive documents remain confidential and that only authorized personnel can make changes.
For example, in a Library containing financial reports, you can grant read-only access to most team members but restrict editing and deletion rights to a select group of financial analysts.
- Metadata and Advanced Search
Libraries support the use of metadata, which enhances document categorization and search capabilities. When metadata is associated with documents, it becomes easier to find specific files using search filters. For instance, if you’re searching for all documents related to a particular client, you can use metadata tags to quickly filter the results.
- Content Types for Document Templates
Content types in SharePoint Libraries allow you to define specific templates for different types of documents. This ensures that documents created within the Library adhere to a predefined structure and formatting standards.
For example, you can create content types for project proposals, contracts, and reports, each with its own template and metadata requirements.
Types of SharePoint Libraries
Just like Lists, SharePoint Libraries come in different types, each tailored for specific use cases:
A Document Library is a repository within SharePoint for storing and managing documents. It offers features like version control, metadata tagging, and permissions management. Document Libraries are commonly used for storing files such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, and more.
Site Asset Library
The Site Asset Library is a specialized library in SharePoint for storing reusable assets such as images, audio files, and video files that are used within a SharePoint site. It centralizes these assets for easy access and reuse across site pages and content.
Site Pages Library
The Site Pages Library is where SharePoint stores web pages and wiki pages that make up the content of your site. These pages can be edited and customized to create the layout and structure of your SharePoint site. It’s essential for building and organizing the information presented on your site.
The Style Library is used for storing CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) files and other style-related assets. CSS files control the visual appearance and layout of SharePoint sites. By storing them in the Style Library, you can maintain consistent branding and styling across your site.
A Picture Library is designed specifically for managing images. It allows you to upload, organize, and display images within your SharePoint site. It’s commonly used for galleries, image libraries, and adding images to web pages or documents.
Wiki Page Library
The Wiki Page Library is used for creating and managing wiki pages, which are web pages that can be easily edited and linked together. It’s a collaborative tool for documenting information, creating knowledge bases, and building interconnected web content.
Lists vs. Libraries: Which to Choose?
The choice between SharePoint Lists and Libraries depends on your organization’s specific use cases and needs. Lists are best suited for structured data and workflow automation, while Libraries shine when it comes to document management and collaboration. However, in many scenarios, a combination of both Lists and Libraries might be the optimal solution to meet the diverse needs of your organization. Regardless of your choice, mastering Lists and Libraries will empower your organization to harness the full potential of SharePoint for improved productivity and collaboration. For more information contact us today, our SharePoint consultants will help you with all your requirements.