Rebecca Lane

By: Rebecca Lane on December 11th, 2021

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Document Library vs Knowledge Base: What is The Difference?

You know when you go to the eye doctor and they ask you to choose between two lenses. “Which is clearer: one or two?” “How about two or three?”

You know the drill. Or maybe you’re not as blind as me so this isn’t as familiar. But, the point is more often than not I can hardly tell the difference between the two. And maybe that’s how you feel when you are comparing a document library and a knowledge base.

At face value, a document library and knowledge base look very similar. However, these software services have different areas where they excel and fall short.

Working for ScreenSteps — a knowledge base software company — I’ve seen how having a single source of truth for your company is game-changing. I’ve talked to managers overseeing documenting policies and procedures who can’t remember why they ever lived without a one-stop shop for their information.

Below, I’ll go over the basic information for a document library and knowledge base. As part of the overview, I’ll provide advice on when to use each system so that you can decide which (or if) these software services are right for your company.

Document Library

A document library is from the same family of software as a knowledge base. Here’s a beginner’s introduction to document libraries.

What is a document library?

A document library is a cloud-based software where you can store and share documents. It is also referred to as a document repository. Businesses use document libraries to store their resources in a centralized location and share resources across their organization.

As a cloud-based service, businesses can grant permission to employees so that they can upload documents into folders where all team members can access them. Essentially, it is a shared file system.

Depending on your document library, the organization and functionality of your software work differently. Overall, document libraries use folders — much like storing information on your desktop — to organize documents.

Examples of a document library

There are many document library systems available. Each system has different capabilities. Some popular document libraries are:

Where, when, and how to use a document library?

A document library is hosted on a secure cloud server, which makes it easy to share with employees.

The purpose of a document library is to organize a company’s documents in one location. The idea is that employees will know where to go to find the information they need.

When workers have a question, they can search your document library for a resource (i.e. help guide, step-by-step instructions, etc.) that can help them complete the task.

Some situations where your employees could use a document library are:

  • If they had a question about a specific policy, like returning a product purchased more than 30 days ago
  • When they don’t remember the steps to a specific procedure, like how to reschedule a dentist appointment for a specific dentist
  • When they need to look up product codes, to troubleshoot an older internet modem

What content is stored in a document library?

Document libraries can store a variety of files. In fact, most document libraries require different applications to create content.

Some of the content you can store in a document library includes;

  • Word Documents
  • Excel Documents
  • PDFs
  • Charts
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Infographics
  • Polices
  • Procedures

Features & tools

Every document library system has its own set of features and tools to help you organize your company’s resources.

Depending on which document library you choose as your service, some of the features and tools you can expect are:

  • Storage space (dependant on your plan)
  • Uploading options (including single file or mass upload)
  • Folders for organizing documents
  • Version history
  • Linking
  • Alerts
  • Permissions management for viewing and uploading content
  • Sharing functions
  • Tagging and metadata tools for search

Document libraries that claim the ability to create and update documents in the document library sometimes require a third-party application. For example, to create and update files in SharePoint, you need the Microsoft Office suite.

Not every document library includes the same features. Before purchasing a document management system, you’ll want to make sure that you understand which features are included with the document library software you are considering.

Cost

The cost of a document library is dependent on multiple factors, including:

  • Amount of storage space needed
  • Number of users
  • Desired features (some features are only available on more advanced plans)

For example, Google Drive and Dropbox have free options. However, as you store more content in these document libraries, the services charge for extra storage space.

Overall, you should plan to spend anywhere from $5/user per month to $20/user per month on a document library system.

Benefits

There are many benefits of using a document library. You can easily share help guides and other documents with your employees.

Employees have 24/7 access to your document library. When they have a question about a policy, procedure, or product, they can search the document library for an answer. It doesn’t matter what time it is.

With folders and sub-folders, you can organize your files so that employees can find them. However, too many subfolders layered can make it more difficult to find the correct resource.

Who should use a document library?

Companies that should use a document library include companies that have their resources scattered across multiple platforms. Do you have files saved on employees’ desktops, in multiple applications, and on different drives?

Adopting a document library will help you collect all of your information in one location. If you don’t have a lot of documents — meaning you won’t have endless subfolders — a document library is the right solution for your business.

If the search function is important to you, a document library may fall short of your expectations. Often, document library search engines only search the titles of the documents since they are individually uploaded files. This limits the information that a search engine scraps and the content that it can find.

If a major concern is speedily creating documents and keeping your documents up to date, a document library may have integrations to make that possible. However, it may be better to use a knowledge base with more agile document creation tools.

Knowledge base

Knowledge bases and document libraries are very similar. In fact, a document library can be considered a subset — or a starter’s level — of a knowledge base. See how a knowledge base compares to a document library below.

What is a knowledge base?

A knowledge base is a cloud-based software that helps companies organize their support materials so others can use them in their day-to-day tasks. It is a one-stop shop for all of your company’s information.

Like a document library, a knowledge base allows users to store and share information across its cloud-based service. In addition, many knowledge bases provide tools that enable users to write documents in the knowledge base.

Where, when, and how to use a knowledge base?

Since a knowledge base is cloud-based software, your company can share your knowledge base with whomever you choose. Companies use their knowledge bases to serve different audiences. Those audiences could be employees, customers, partners, or another group of people.

There are different types of knowledge bases to support these audiences, but many knowledge base companies support multiple types of knowledge bases.

Knowledge base software is great for in-the-moment (or just-in-time) learning. The purpose of a knowledge base is to provide users with the answers they need at their fingertips so that they can learn and apply information as they read.

When you have your policies and procedures documented in your knowledge base, you can use your knowledge base to support training as well as help your employees perform tasks while in the workflow.

Some example scenarios for when your users might use your knowledge base include:

  • When a customer has a question about a policy about late fees
  • When an employee needs to troubleshoot a problem
  • When employees need to submit a request for time off

What content can you store in a knowledge base?

Unlike a document library, where you simply upload files from different applications. A knowledge base has its own content authoring system. However, you can often still upload your files in a knowledge base.

Some of the content that is shared in a knowledge base includes:

Features & tools

Depending on the knowledge base software, you will have different features and tools. And each of these knowledge bases will have different levels of advancement for these tools.

Knowledge Base Authoring ToolsIn general, a knowledge base typically has some functionality for the following features and tools:

  • Authoring tools (i.e. design elements, screen capture, linking, etc.)
  • Content template options (i.e. checklists, workflow articles, FAQs, manuals, etc.)
  • Version control
  • Permissions management
  • Search engine
  • Integrations
  • Software security
  • User feedback
  • Embed video
  • Reports and analytics

Before committing to a knowledge base software, make sure that they include the features and tools that you cannot live without.

Cost

As with most products, there is a wide range of pricing for a knowledge base. One of the challenges with determining the best price for a knowledge base is each company charges based on different criteria. Some of the factors affecting the cost of a knowledge base include:

  • Number of users
  • Type of knowledge base (internal or customer-facing)
  • Which features are included
  • Number of articles

Here I break down the cost of a knowledge base according to the cost per user. A knowledge base can cost you anywhere from $5/user per month and up to more than $400/user per month.

While there are some free knowledge base software options available, note that these options typically have limited capabilities. Often, these knowledge bases fall more in the category of a document library or document repository.

Note: Most companies have a discount for an annual subscription. Typically, knowledge base software companies provide a free trial of their product so that you can try it out before committing to the software.

Benefits

The benefit of using a knowledge base to store and share your company’s documents is that you have a one-stop shop for your information. Employees know exactly where to turn to find answers to their questions.

Like a document library, these resources are available 24/7. That way, even your night shift employees have the support they need when they need it. They can reference your knowledge base articles for help at any time.

With the right knowledge base, you have a more robust search engine. This can help pull up more relevant articles and decrease the time your employees spend searching for answers.

An added bonus is that a knowledge base can complement your formal training. With a complete knowledge base, you can train your employees on how to quickly find answers to any policy and procedure. This minimizes the amount of information new hires need to memorize.

Who needs a knowledge base?

If you want to be able to create, store, organize, and share your help guides and other resources in one location, a knowledge base could help your company.

Knowledge bases are especially helpful to companies that:

  • Have complex procedures
  • Spend time troubleshooting
  • Have a lot of policies and procedures
  • Have information scattered across multiple platforms
  • Are scaling (growing)
  • Have seasonal/temporary workers

If you don’t have a lot of documents or have a team smaller than 10 people, a knowledge base probably isn’t necessary.

Ready to organize your documents in one location?

Getting your company’s documents and resources organized in one location is challenging. With a tool like a document library or knowledge base, you gather all of your company’s resources in one location.

A knowledge base is a more advanced option that provides more functionality. There are many knowledge base choices out there.

ScreenSteps is a knowledge base software company that focuses on ease of use and agility. It is quick to create and update your knowledge base articles using ScreenSteps. Plus, our advanced search tools help employees access articles in as few as two clicks.

Are you considering a knowledge base to serve as your company’s single source of truth? Choosing a knowledge base can be overwhelming. Use these five tips to help you choose a knowledge base that will best support your company.

How to Choose a Knowledge Base

About Rebecca Lane

Content Marketing Manager