Checking out documents = no one else can see them!


“I can see the April TPS Report but my boss can’t!” 

Guess what? Documents in a checked-out state are hidden from other users.

This simple solution is often overlooked.  You may not even realize they are checked out.  Rather than notice that the April TPS Report is checked out, you assume a permissions problem or other drastic reason. Trouble can come when well-meant efforts to “fix” the issue result in much more serious problems.  

As a rule, the first thing end users should do in this situation is to determine whether the items in question are checked out. Check them back in, and voilà! Visible again.

“I never checked any files out!”

It probably happened automatically, and here’s why. Document libraries can be configured to require certain properties (also referred to as “attributes” or metadata”) which help define the document. Examples of such fields may be Status, Department, Document Type, etc. (The assumption is that every document in that library will have those fields completed to help with Search results or sorting/filtering that library’s contents.)

 When you upload files one at a time, the interface forces you to populate any required fields before the file can be saved. Once saved, it’s available to all users with appropriate permissions to that library.

BUT– the trouble comes when MULTIPLE files are uploaded. This method bypasses the interface which asks you to complete the required fields. The documents get added BUT THEY DEFAULT TO A CHECKED-OUT STATE. And you probably never even noticed. You must check them all in or they will be hidden from every other user.

“How do I check all these back in? There are dozens/hundreds/kajillions of documents!”

      • In SharePoint 2007, the end user must manually check in every document. There is no bulk check-in feature (Admins may have more options). At the time of check-in, you will be asked to populate any required fields.
      • In SharePoint 2010, you can easily check all the files in with one step. This is one of the major improvements SharePoint added to the new product version.

“What can I do to prevent this from happening again?”

Do your homework

      • Before adding multiple files to any library, make sure you find out if there are any required properties. If there are, you may choose not to do a bulk upload.
      • Contact your site’s administrator. He/she can disable the required fields so the bulk upload can proceed, then re-enable them afterwards. (Find out whether you will need to populate those fields later.)
      • The point of required fields is to help users find things via Search and to enable “slicing and dicing” of the library’s contents in various Views. There should always be a good reason for requiring fields!
          • All users of that library should have a good understanding of WHY it’s been set up, what it’s tracking and what the procedures are for uploading files.
          • The library’s description should state that certain fields are required and that bulk uploads require administrator notification or intervention to avoid the “hidden documents” situation.

Get a secret weapon

      • Another way to raise awareness of the presence of checked-out files is to add the “Relevant Documents” web part to your site.
      • This is a fantastic, out-of-the-box web part that can display every document that is checked out to the current user across all the document libraries in your site. Many people are not even aware it exists!
      • It’s important to configure the web part optimally to make sure it delivers the results you want. Visit this article to learn more.

“Check-out is stupid. What a pain!”

No one meant for check-out to sneak up and make your life difficult. There are plenty of great reasons for using this feature. Education is the best protection. If your job entails frequent use of SharePoint document libraries, learn as much as you can about them. Document management is one of SharePoint’s biggest benefits; there are MANY features available to you to support your daily work.

If you limit yourself to a simple basic library where people just stuff documents in, you’re really missing out! Make these features work FOR you, not against you.

Learn more here:

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