The nucleolus is the most obvious and clearly differentiated nuclear sub-compartment. It is where ribosome biogenesis takes place, but it is becoming clear that the nucleolus also has non-ribosomal functions. In this review we discuss recent progress in our understanding of how both ribosome biosynthesis and some non-ribosomal functions relate to observable nucleolar structure. We still do not have detailed enough information about the in situ organization of the various processes taking place in the nucleolus. However, the present power of light and electron microscopy techniques means that a description of the organization of nucleolar processes at the molecular level is now achievable, and the time is ripe for such an effort.