Students Staff
University of Essex

May 24, 2018

Diary of a SharePoint Admin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — sgswaine @ 9:14 am


Library vs SharePoint

The library has had a bad relationship with SharePoint; a problem child that then had to go through puberty multiple software upgrades and come out a little worse for wear. Combine this with busy schedules and you have yourself a website getting dusty on a server somewhere on the other side of campus. That won’t do. SharePoint is better at collecting files than dust, and in this article I’m going to be talking about how we’ve gone from that state to a usable and intuitive system.

If you don’t know what SharePoint is, it is document management software that allows collaboration, though that’s just scratching the surface. I could talk about it for days on end and still barely cover its features, but this just shows the versatility of the software (and how far down the rabbit hole you can fall). The surface level however should fit the needs of most people, and there’s plenty of help out there for using it.

Moving to greener pastures

Our documents are currently stored in a 40GB shared drive. When I started, it always felt like a dirty laundry basket; everybody was trying to put that last small item in, nobody was quite sure what was in there, some items seemed to have multiplied, and the sides were just about ready to split. As you can imagine, I was never too happy to put my hand in to look for something when somebody asked me to.

Something new was needed, and SharePoint ticked all of those needs. We needed storage, tracking, and the ability to search. Now all we had to do was learn.

Getting to grips

As the lead for the SharePoint project, I needed to start learning how to set-up and use SharePoint. Here, I watched the SharePoint 2016 Essential Training tutorial by Gini von Courter on This gave me an insight into how to work SharePoint at an Admin level and the features the library team would need.

There are other videos on using SharePoint, so if you’re not working on it at this level, I would recommend the Learning SharePoint 2016 tutorial instead. 9 hours on using SharePoint did make me gnaw my own arm off need to take breaks every so often.

The First Step

From here I decided how the SharePoint site would be set up:

  1. One Homepage to service all of the different teams and work groups in the library with side and box navigation.
  2. Each area as a document library with a Resources Type and Subject column.
  3. Secret subsites only accessible by those that need it for privacy.
  4. Space for new groups and teams to form areas.

This was designed in response to the current Shared Drive; to have one central place for all shared documents, the search and file tracking capabilities, the security of documents, and to allow new groups to form.

I also felt that SharePoint would be a good place to build a community aspect for the library, a place where all members of staff are able to communicate. I created a few general libraries, such as a directory, staff development, and a message board. We’ve had some use of the development centre and directory, but I’m going to try and promote the message board later this year.

Build it, and hope they come

Designing a system in a vacuum is one thing, to have people come and poke it and kick it is another. As a team made of lots of smaller teams, there are a lot of conflicting wants and needs, so staying open minded was important. To start, SharePoint received a lot of rejection; people knew the shared drive, they knew how to find their documents (maybe not all the versions) and they knew how to teach it to new members of staff. This is where education, a little persuasion and perspiration were needed.
Although vast, when you get to learn the bare bones of it, SharePoint really opens up. On top of this, the bare bones are fairly simple, so it should be accessible by those who aren’t as confident in computer literacy. This also spawned a Using SharePoint area, which I’m planning on adding a Q&A section to so that people can ask about features that they need.
By educating people, it went from a tall shadow to a useful tool. As people started to get involved, this vacuum became a two way channel, the way SharePoint was supposed to be designed; by the community for the community.

Keep the wheels turning

This is the point we are currently at, the dip just before the push (the phrase herding cats comes to mind). Most people have more pressing matters to attend to, and SharePoint slips down the list as small fires rise. With support, we have organised a day dedicated to it: the declutter day.

Our usual declutter days let us sort through the papers that spawn from the aether and into our desk drawers. This day will need a plan if it’s going to happen though:

  1. Introduction to SharePoint, showing how it is used, how to add documents to it, and how to make these documents searchable.
  2. Getting people into their teams and giving them a plan so everyone knows what they’re in charge of.
  3. Make sure that all teams and individuals have a deadline.
  4. Being on hand to help.

How it goes will be another story, and something I’ll have to get back you about.


The next time someone asks me to organise their SharePoint, I think I’ll tell them that I’m washing my hair! I have learnt a lot from this project, and on a deeper level than the functions SharePoint offers. It’s helped me learn about all the systems and teams in place in the library, what they do and need on a daily basis, and pushed me to see as many perspectives as possible. I had to work with teams I wouldn’t usually have contact with, and in making these connections, I’ve wanted to push this ideal of a library community with open communication, where everything is open to everybody. How that goes, we’ll have to see.

Top Tips

  • Listen to people – A community of people will want a community’s worth of differences, try not to pigeonhole people, and make them feel they’re getting what they want and need.
  • Don’t listen to people – The phrase ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’ comes to mind. Use your knowledge to guide your users in their wants and needs.
  • Expect things to go wrong – Plan for errors, system or user, and learn from these.
  • Reach out – The SharePoint community is vast and usually very friendly. If you want to know something, go out and ask either the university SharePoint team, a department that uses it, or on an online forum.
  • Don’t expect to learn everything – As I said before, SharePoint is vast with lots of features and options, learn as and when you need to.

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