E-books: yes or no? A case study of undergraduate students at the University of Namibia

Anna Leonard (University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia)
Maritha Snyman (University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa)

Collection and Curation

ISSN: 2514-9326

Article publication date: 11 January 2019

Issue publication date: 11 June 2019



The purpose of the paper is to determine how undergraduate students at the University of Namibia perceive and use e-books. This paper aims to report on the result of a study that investigated the adoption of, views about and use of e-books at the University of Namibia.


The study used a mixed-method approach. It used three methods, namely, focus group interviews, observation combined with the think aloud and a survey to investigate how undergraduate students use e-books.


Major findings of the study indicated that students use and prefer e-books for course and research purposes. But they mainly use non-library search engines such as Google, Yahoo and commercial sites. Lack of searching skills, slow/unreliable internet and limited or lack of relevant content of e-book collections were the major hindrances affecting e-book use.


The findings of the study could be used to understand the use of e-books at the University of Namibia and at academic institutions with similar context to Namibia. The study contributes to the knowledge base of library and information science (LIS) by providing a detailed analysis on the views and use of e-books at the University of Namibia. The recommendations of this study can be adopted by libraries in other countries with similar socio-economic conditions like Namibia.



Leonard, A. and Snyman, M. (2019), "E-books: yes or no? A case study of undergraduate students at the University of Namibia", Collection and Curation, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 78-88. https://doi.org/10.1108/CC-08-2018-0018



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited


The advancement of information and communications technology (ICT), especially the development of the internet and increased access to it changed the face of the publishing industry. Electronic publications such as e-journals and e-books originated because of internet communication systems such as the World Wide Web. The emergency of e-books has changed the publishing industry in many ways. A 2012 Huffington Post report reflected that the:

Majority of publishers produce 50 per cent of their titles as e-books, and nearly one-half produce 75 per cent of their titles as e-books. Thirty-six per cent of publishers derive greater than 10 per cent of their revenue from e-books, a percentage that has doubled in the course of one year. Eighty per cent of publishers still produce print versions of their e-titles, and 65 per cent of the publishers have converted less than 50 per cent of their backlist inventory into an e-book format (Huffington Post, 2012).

Print books are becoming more expensive to maintain compared to online books (Bunkell and Dyas-Correia, 2009). This is because the print books can easily be vandalised and get lost, therefore lead to high replacement costs. They further observed that the accumulative cost per volume and over time of print books were higher and rose more quickly than the cost of online books.

Awareness and use of e-books

Higher education institutions over the world recognise the potential of e-books and spend a fair amount of money to provide e-books for their students and staff (SCONUL, 2009). Various studies examined the use of e-books at academic institutions in developed countries and revealed that a high percentage of students, about 70 per cent and more, are aware and regularly use e-books for various purposes and in a variety of ways (Nicholas et al., 2008; Nicholas and Clark, 2012; Chandra, 2013; Wilkinson, 2015).

In Africa, however, the acceptance of e-books has not yet reached significant levels (Maepa and Nkosi, 2013; Zinn and Langdown, 2011; Adubika, 2011; Egberongbe, 2011). Asunka (2013) in a study from Ghana and Wiese and Du Plessis’s (2015) investigation from South Africa reported that, although African students are aware of the existence of e-books, they do not regularly use them. Despite the high rate of awareness of e-books at Nigerian institutions of higher learning, the usage of e-text books is limited (Adubika, 2011). In a study to investigate the e-books use in South African academic libraries, Khan and Underwood (2016) observed that, although students are keen to use e-books, there is limited awareness of their existence in the libraries.

A variety of factors that hinder the wider acceptance of e-books in Africa have been reported: the low volume of e-books published in Africa (Zell, 2013), high e-books prices, challenges with internet connectivity, a lack of a legal framework to administer digital publishing, a lack of locally relevant content and limited and/or a lack of infrastructure required to use e-books (Zinn and Langdown, 2011; Adubika, 2011; Egberongbe, 2011; Maepa and Nkosi, 2013). Zell (2013), focusing on the use of electronic devices in Sub-Saharan Africa, observed that the use of e-books in Africa is still limited due to the small number of e-book publishers in the leading e-book publishing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Purposes for using e-books

The purposes and motivations for using e-books also differ according to context as is described in the following examples. In higher institutions of Malaysia, e-books are mainly used for finding relevant content and to support research work, but not for extended reading (Noorhidawati and Gibb, 2008). About 60 per cent of the academic staff and students at the University of Maryland in the USA use e-books for research, whilst 52 per cent use e-books for recreational reading purposes (Corlett-Rivera and Hackman, 2014). Students in China, particularly undergraduate students, use e-books mainly for leisure purposes, whilst postgraduate students tend to use e-books more for academic purposes (Wang and Bai, 2016). The purposes for which e-books are used influence the way in which they are used. Students who use e-books for assignment and research purposes read only the relevant sections of the book, whilst those who use e-books for leisure reading, read them from the beginning to end. Some students browse through the book, whilst others download and print a chapter to read at a later stage (Rowlands et al., 2007; Nicholas et al., 2008; Shelburne, 2009; Hasan et al., 2011; Noorhidawati and Gibb, 2008). In an academic context, e-books are mainly used for selective reading, in the same way that e-journals are often used (Shelburne, 2009; Nicholas et al., 2010; Gregory, 2008; Berg et al., 2010). Chandra (2013) found that, because e-citizens spend many hours in front of computers, they do not want to read complete books on the computer. They use e-books “for dipping in” to look for specific information or references.

In the African context, a study conducted in Kenya reported that students use e-books for writing conference paper, assignments and research purpose (Wendo and Mwanzu, 2016). In Nigerian universities, students use e-books mainly to validate information and to gain insight about a specific topic (Nwangu, 2014).

Research suggests that the acceptance and use of e-books vary from one context to the other (Armstrong and Lonsdale, 2008; Abdullah and Gibb, 2008a, 2008b). In the academic context, the usage of e-journals exceeds the use of e-books. Although many studies examined the use of e-books in academic libraries (Vassiliou and Rowley, 2008; Abdullah and Gibb, 2008a, 2008b; Brown, 2009; Ahmad et al., 2013), no research on this topic has ever been done at the University of Namibia (UNAM). Two studies by Nakanduungile et al. (2012) and Ndinoshiho (2010) did research on related topics.

Advantages and disadvantages of e-books

E-books have many attributes that can be used in academic institutions. In a study to investigate the experiences of faculty and students with e-books at the University of Kansas, reported aspects like highlighting and searching capabilities; accessibility and convenience (portability), having a lighter load to carry, being able to access e-books from any computer and the ability to download on more than one device were identified the perceived benefits of e-books (Gueval et al., 2015). In Malaysia, Bozarth and Zhong (2016) adopted a mixed-method approach to explore the users’ preferences and behaviours towards e-books. They found that users like the benefits of having features such as easy downloading, the ability to search in a book, highlighting, annotation, citation and bookmarks. Potnis et al. (2018) referred to the abilities to bookmark pages, copy text and search across full text are the most important features that students in the USA like about e-books.

E-books have some shortcomings though that cause students to still use printed books. Long periods of reading time on screen lead to fatigued eyes. The in-compatibility of interactive e-books is another problem. There is no widely accepted universal format that allows all books to be read on any device. Reading devices need power, and in areas where electricity is not available, the reading of e-books depend on the limited to battery life (Bozkurt and Bozkaga, 2015). The issue of power requirements for reading devices is a matter of concern to academic institutions in developing countries, including Namibia where some of the students reside in areas without electricity and internet connectivity. That means they can only use e-books when they are at the university.

Aim of the article

The aim of this article is to investigate the views and uses of e-books by undergraduate students at UNAM. Important objectives of this article are to determine how many undergraduate students at UNAM are aware of e-books, what students’ perceptions about e-books are, which user patterns exist and which factors influence the use or non-use of e-books.

To appreciate the reason for this study, it is important to understand the context in which this research took place since Namibia’s economic, educational and cultural contexts are variables that may influence the use of e-books.

Namibia is situated on the south-western coast of Africa and shares a border with Botswana in the east, South Africa in the south and southeast and Angola in the north (Angula, 2010). In terms of economic status, Namibia is categorised as a middle-income country with a high rate of unemployment, mainly amongst young people. It has a population of 2,113,077 (Namibia Statistic Agency (NSA) 2012).

The level of education in Namibia (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2013; Wikan, 2008, and World Bank, 2014) exceeds that of other sub-Saharan countries, with an 89 per cent enrolment in primary education. Namibia introduced free primary education in 2012, which will probably increase the enrolment level of primary education in the future. The country has a literacy rate of 88 per cent for persons over 15 years (NSA, 2012).

The use of ICT in education forms part of Namibia’s long-term national strategic plan, called Vision 2030. Vision 2030 contains the country’s development programmes and strategies:

Vision 2030 aims to achieve a fully integrated, unified and flexible education and training system that prepares the Namibian youth and other learners to take advantages of a rapidly changing environment and contributes to the economic, moral, cultural and social development of the country (Vision 2030).

In support of Vision 2030, an ICT policy for education was created to enhance the use and development of ICT in the delivery of education and training. The Ministry of Education’s Training Sector Improvement Program (ETSIP) was tasked to develop an ICT infrastructure in Namibian libraries and provide computer training for library staff.

Location of the study

This study was conducted at UNAM, one of the public universities in the country. There are also two other universities in Namibia, namely, the Namibia University of Science and Technology, a public university, and International University of Management, a private university. There is also a public colleges such as Namibia College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) and about seven public vocational education centres countrywide. In addition to public universities, colleges and vocational training centres, there are private colleges Lingua College, Triumphant College and Welwichia, etc.

UNAM is a leading public higher education institution founded in 1992. UNAM’s vision is to be a “beacon of excellence and innovation in teaching, research and extension services”. Its mission states that Namibia is moving towards a knowledge-based economy (UNAM, 2010, p. 7).

Originally a one-campus university, UNAM has expanded into a multi-campus university comprising 10 campuses and nine regional centres (Namhila and Ndinoshiho, 2011) which includes six faculties and two schools. The large number of campuses is a result of the integration of four colleges of education into UNAM in 2010 and the establishment of the School of Medicine and Engineering in 2010. UNAM has about 19,453 registered students, including distance students, full-time students and part-time students enrolled for undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

Such a multi-facetted and expansive university needs an efficient library that can cater for all needs. The Information and Learning Resource Centre (ILRC) was established to support learning, teaching and research work at the university (UNAM, 2010). The ILRC began to acquire e-books in 2012 and has access to about 7000 e-books through EBSCO and Science Direct. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the university and the fact that some programs are offered at multiple campuses that are a distance from each other, the Library Collection Development Policy (2017) recommended that efforts should be made to acquire an electronic format of a resource whenever it is available. In 2018, the library spent over N$500,000.00 on subscription to agriculture and veterinary e-books, of which the library will select highly used titles to that value as patron-driven acquisition.

At the time of this research, the library made its e-books available through a vendor’s e-book platform, the library catalogue and through the alphabetical title list of electronic holdings and direct links to individual e-books on the library’s website. The e-books are introduced to library users through e-mails, lists of new acquisitions, websites, posters and leaflets, as well as through information literacy training, ICT training and the library orientations that are offered to students.

Following the introduction of e-books, it was important for library staff to determine how the undergraduate users perceive e-books as a resource and how they use them. This study was done in 2016 and had the aim to determine the perception of and usage of e-books by undergraduate students. It was hoped that the findings would inform library staff to adapt or change their strategy regarding e-books by considering undergraduate students’ views and usage patterns. It was also envisioned that this study would contribute to the increasing use of e-resources at other academic libraries in Namibia.

Research methodology

In a mixed-method research approach in which both qualitative and quantitative methods were used, the data were collected by means of focus group discussions, observations (think-aloud method) and a questionnaire. The collection and analysis of the qualitative data took place in the first phase of the research. The findings from the first phase were used to design the questionnaire which was used during the second phase of the research.

The available population for this study was undergraduate students of UNAM. From the total student population of 19,824, a convenience sample of 1,762 undergraduates in their fourth year was drawn from the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences, Economics and Management, Law, Science and Technology, Health Sciences and Education which are all situated on the main campus and within reach of the researcher. Students from the other campuses were excluded due to geographical remoteness and logistic difficulties. It was assumed that fourth-year students would be well informed about using the library.

Phase 1: qualitative research process

Random probability sampling was used in Phase 1 to collect qualitative data. A list of students was obtained from the Strategic and Physical Planning Department of the university. An e-mail was then sent to the students, requesting their voluntary participation in the study. Those who confirmed their willingness to participate in the study were further screened to confirm a suitable time to participate in the study. The sample size is often difficult to establish in qualitative research. Krueger and Casey’s (2009) recommendation that a focus group discussion should consist of a minimum of four and maximum 12 participants per group. In this study, six focus groups consisting of four to eight participants each participated, and a total of 28 students partook in the focus group discussions and observation.

Focus group discussions are used to explore the in-depth feelings and beliefs of respondents and how these feelings shape their behaviour (Connaway and Powell, 2010, p. 173). The six focus groups, consisting of four to eight students, were used to gain an understanding of the views, perceptions, attitudes and motivations of respondents with regards to e-books.

The same respondents who participated in the focus group discussion also participated in the collection of data via observation and specifically, the think-aloud method. Observation took place immediately after the discussion groups. The respondents were asked to do prescribed exercises which included finding e-books and using certain e-book functionalities, such as downloading, e-mailing and printing. The think-aloud method was used in the observation process. The think-aloud method is a structured approach to observation in which respondents voice their thoughts as they complete their tasks (Charters, 2003)[1]. The respondents verbalised their thoughts whilst working on a particular task (Oh and Wildemuth, 2009, p. 81). They were requested to express their thoughts and reactions aloud whilst they do the exercises. Their thought processes were recorded with a tape recorder. Non-verbal reactions and behaviour were documented in field notes.

The qualitative data were analysed using content analysis. The transcribed texts of the interviews, the recordings of the think-aloud method were also coded and categorised to identify the themes relevant to the study’s aim. These themes were then used to develop the questionnaire. In this way, the emergent themes from the qualitative data were further explored in the quantitative study.

Phase 2: quantitative research process

The questionnaire, consisting of closed and open-ended questions, was designed and distributed to fourth-year students using the Smart Survey software[2]. Before the questionnaire was uploaded into the software, it was piloted amongst four students and two colleagues for possible improvements. The proposed changes were further analysed, and amendments were done where possible. The link of the questionnaire was distributed to students’ mobile phones. A computer was reserved at the library for respondents who did not have access to a smartphone. A total of 159 students participated in this survey. This constitute a 50.59 per cent response rate of the estimated 318 sample size. The data collection was done between June and September 2016. The same software programme was then used to analyse the quantitative data.


The demographic detail of the respondents collected via the questionnaire are provided in the pie charts below.


Figure 1 indicates that the majority (75 per cent) of the respondents are in the age category 18-39. As most of the respondents are young people, their feedback is important. An understanding of their views and perceptions can successfully inform strategies for education and academic library management that have to take note of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In Figure 2 below, the preponderance of female respondents (female respondents 59 per cent; male respondents 46 per cent) could be interpreted, given the distribution of respondents across the relevant faculties in this study as displayed in Figure 3.


More than a third of the respondents were from the Faculty of Education which might explain the fact that finding that most of the respondents are female.

The respondents were also asked how they would judge their own computer skills. The findings are presented in Figure 4 below. The effective use of e-books is reliant on one’s ability and skill to use a computer. Nearly all (94 per cent) of the respondents felt that they have sufficient computer skills. These results will be returned to when the usage of e-books is discussed.

What follows is an integrated analysis of the qualitative and quantitative findings. This is presented in a table format followed by a discussion of the findings.

An integrated analysis of the findings

Table I.


The findings below are presented in line with the objectives of the article. Themes will be categorised and discussed according to these objectives.

Awareness of e-books

The qualitative findings do not indicate a lack of awareness about e-books, but the quantitative findings established that 76 per cent of the respondents know about e-books versus 27.6 per cent of respondents who have no knowledge about e-books. This tallies with the 27.6 per cent of the respondents who are not aware of the availability of e-books. These findings suggest that more could be done to inform students about e-books and the fact that they are available. UNM raises awareness for its resources and services during the student’s orientation for first-year students, by displaying posters and through the information literacy training. The information literacy is not yet impeded into the curriculum; therefore, the information literacy session depends on the willingness of the lectures to give one or two of their session to the library for this training. In 2017, the library engaged in an agreement with the Language Centre Department to pilot the information literacy training in English course; the pilot will then be evaluated by the English lecturers involved and give their report which will determine whether it will be impended into the curriculum or not. It is important that all students at a university today should know that e-books exist.

Usage of e-books

The findings of the quantitative research show that e-books are frequently used by only 9 per cent of the respondents. About 44 per cent indicated that they have used e-books “a couple of times”, whilst 33 per cent have never used e-books. There is a wide caveat between the frequent usage and knowledge of e-books: 9 per cent versus 76 per cent. This could be due to lack of skills because the information literacy course through which the students can gain skills on how to utilise the electronic resources is not offered frequently. Also, the fact that it is not impeded into the curriculum, students do not take it seriously.

The students who use e-books use them for course work (45 per cent) and for research (43 per cent). Only 11.6 per cent use e-books for leisure reading. These finding correlate with the reasons why they preferred e-books: mainly to find relevant information (62.5 per cent) or to read selectively. Only 12.5 per cent use e-books for extended reading. This finding is a concern because it compares poorly to e-books usage in developed countries. However, the findings correlate with the finding of other studies conducted in African context such as in Kenya (Wendo and Mwanzu, 2016) and Nigeria (Nwangu, 2014). Both studies indicate that students use e-books selectively to find relevant information. In addition, the low rate of extended reading from electronic books amongst students in Namibia can be associated with the poor reading culture. According to Itenge-Wheeler et al. (2016), there are many challenges facing the development of a reading culture. One of the major hindrances is the lack of family literacy. In Namibia, the local cultures prefer the oral tradition, especially in light of the fact that there is limited written literature available in local languages.

The respondents who indicated that they do not use e-books referred to their lack of awareness about the availability of e-books. Some claimed that they are not referred to e-books when searching the library catalogue. If students do not know how an e-book is displayed in the library catalogue, they will not be able to select it and will not try to click further to get to the full text. They are not skilled enough to use e-books or are not aware that e-books are available in the library. The university library plays a pivotal role to ensure that students are well informed and equipped with the necessary skills on how to utilise electronic resources, including e-books. Gueval et al. (2015) identified the possible ways of how academic libraries can increase awareness and improve the usage of e-books, which can also be adopted by UNAM libraries.

There were contradictory findings in the data sets about the way in which e-books are accessed. In the focus group discussions, the analysis concluded that the respondents mainly find e-books on free search engines. An analysis of the quantitative data in this regard concludes that 49.95 per cent of the respondents use e-books provided in the library and through the library website. An analysis of the analysed data collected by the think-aloud method also indicates that most of the respondents use the library’s e-resource portal to access e-books required for the task. An explanation for this anomaly might again suggest that more must be done to convey much needed information about e-books to the students of UNAM.

Perceptions about e-books

Although 33 per cent of the respondents do not even know that e-books exist, the findings show an overwhelming preference for e-books. Analyses of both the focus group discussions and questionnaire agree about the reasons for preferring e-books. This study shows that the majority of the respondents liked the portability of e-books (24.7 per cent), whilst 19.5 per cent liked the convenience of e-books. Nearly 15.2 per cent of the respondents who answered this question liked the value and the advantage of easy accessibility that e-books provide, whilst 13 per cent indicated that e-books are easy to use. These findings concur with that of Wu and Chen’s (2011) who also found that accessibility and convenience to use an e-book at anytime and anywhere are the most important reasons why the e-books are preferred. These findings do not correlate with the findings of recent studies elsewhere that paradoxically indicate a return to the preference of print books over electronic books (Woody et al., 2010; Zhang and Kudva, 2013; Miller and Warschauer, 2014).

It was important to get insight into how the respondents, who indicated that they use e-books, decided on the value of e-books, because it may be a predictor whether students will use e-books in future or not. The findings suggested that 46 per cent of the respondents regarded e-books to be very valuable and 27 per cent extremely valuable, whilst 22 per cent of the respondents found e-books moderately valuable. Only 1 per cent of the respondents indicated that e-books are not valuable at all.

Factors which influence the use or no-use of e-books

The respondents mentioned the following barriers that prevent them for using e-books:

  • lack of knowledge (awareness) of e-books and searching skills;

  • problems with internet availability, limited or lack of relevant content in e-books; and

  • limited or the lack of the necessary devices on which to access e-books like computers and/or e-reader devices.

Some of these factors have already been discussed above, but are similar to the problems that many middle-income countries in Africa face.

The respondents would like to see e-books in course outlines as recommended reading or as references. The issue of integration of e-books in the curriculum is the responsibility of the academic staff, but the library needs to make provision for different book formats. In his comprehensive study, McKiel (2007) proposed strategies on how to integrate e-books in the curriculum:

  • encourage students to use e-books as a viable source;

  • use chapters/sections for course reading;

  • include links to e-books in course management software; and

  • recommend e-books for entire text reading as prescribed or recommended textbooks.

This requires the library and faculties to work together to ensure that recommended and prescribed textbooks are available in the electronic format.

The respondents also reported limitations in terms of in-demand and relevant titles. Often, relevant books are not available in the electronic format. There are not many e-books produced in Africa (Zinn and Langdown, 2011); Treptow and James, 2011). Dewen (2012) observed that the lack of relevant academic content is the biggest obstacle in the use of an e-books collection. The limited local content in Africa could be due to limited electronic books publishers on the continent. According to PASA (2012), the South African e-book market is in an embryonic stage when compared to the international e-book market. The PASA report of 2012 states that only about 111 local e-books were available for downloading at the time of their study.

The respondents who stated that they use e-books but prefer print books mentioned reasons like eye strain, difficulty to read on screen and that it was easier to make notes and highlights when using print books. The respondents who indicated that they did not use e-books identified the main issue as a lack of awareness about the availability of e-books and where to search for e-books. Some indicated that no references to e-books were found when searching. This is, again, an issue of knowledge. Other studies in Africa indicate similar reasons as the major preventive factors in the use of e-books (Hamutumwa, 2014; Croft and Davis, 2010). If students are not aware of the existence of e-books in the library, they will not make use of them.

Although this study reported a high preference for e-books amongst the respondents, there is also significant percentage of respondents who prefers print books. For instance, 12.2 per cent of the respondents, who indicated that they have never used e-books, indicated a preference for print books as the reason for not using e-books. This supported the findings of Woody et al. (2010) and Corlett-Rivera and Hackman (2014), who also reported that a preference for print books is a deterrent for the use of e-books. People are used to reading print books, and some people love the look, smell and feel of books and may not want to give up the sensory experience of reading from a printed book.

Conclusive notes on the findings

This study found that the lack of awareness and searching skills are the major impediments for using e-books. This is corroborated in studies by Ajayi et al. (2014) and Ismail and Zainab (2007). Searching and retrieval skills are important requirements to effectively using library resources. Akpojotor (2016) also observed that a lack of information retrieval skills for exploiting electronic resources contribute to the low use of the electronic information resources in Nigeria. It also became clear that an awareness of e-books does not necessarily translate to the actual use of e-books in academic libraries.

Considering the purpose for which e-books are used, the results of this study correlate with findings of Letchumanan and Tarmizi (2011) and Corlett-Rivera and Hackman (2014) who also stated that students use e-books for coursework and research purposes and do not use e-books for leisure reading. The results are also supported by other studies conducted in academic institutions in Africa such as the studies by Sameda et al. (2018) in Libya; Maduku (2015) in South Africa and Asunka (2013) in Ghana. In contrast to this, Wang and Bai’s (2016) study conducted in China found that students, and particularly undergraduates, use e-books mainly for leisure purposes.

Students use e-books differently from how they use print books. According to Gregory (2008), students use e-books in the same way that they use journals, a behaviour which Appleton (2004) and Staiger (2012) describe as “use” rather than “read”. This explains why students use e-books mainly for research purpose.

Discussion and recommendation

In view of the findings, conclusive notes and other comments provided by the respondents of this study, the following recommendations emanating from the results and conclusions of the study should be adopted to improve the use of e-books at UNAM. Therefore, the library should do the following:

  1. The university library needs to improve facilities and infrastructure required to enhance access and usage of e-books. These facilities include the improvement of computers, internet bandwidth and provision of e-books readers. It is, however, not easy task to accomplish this. The global economic crisis of 2007 has affected the economic performance of most African countries, including Namibia (Okwechime et al., 2016). There have been calls from the Head of State of Namibia for state-funded institution to cut expenditure and save money. In addition, UNAM receives a subsidy from government which was also cut. This economic depression will make it difficult for UNAM to meet users’ requirements in terms of computers and bandwidth improvements. Noting the current economic recession that African countries are experiencing, it will be difficult for the university to fund the procurement of these facilities. The library can perhaps take initiatives to seek donations for computers and e-readers from computer manufacturing companies like Microsoft, Apple, etc.

  2. The university should improve its internet facilities. Effective use of e-books relies on fast and reliable internet connectivity. Speed internet is one of the factors that may enhance the usage of e-books at UNAM; however, like most other academic institutions in Africa such as in Kenyan universities (Wendo and Mwanzu, 2016), in Ghanaian universities (Asunka, 2013), in Libyan higher education institutions (Smeda et al., 2018) and in South African universities (Maduku, 2016), slow and unreliable internet connections is the major problem that hinders the usage of electronic resources. Although UNAM has an agreement with Telecom Namibia that UNAM students receive a 4G device for internet connection, some students claim that they never work, and if it works, it is too slow.

  3. There is a need to constantly conduct awareness, promotional campaigns and training regarding the existence and use of information resources and services, including e-books. This activity can easily be implemented by the library. The university library has employed subject librarians for all faculties across different campuses who are tasked to provide current awareness services and training to both students and academics in their respective faculties. The library needs to work together with the Marketing and Communication Department of the university to develop effective strategies and promotional tools that may be used by subject librarians to execute awareness and promotional campaigns for e-books.

  4. There is also a need to constantly conduct training for students and academic staff to provide them with skills to use e-books effectively. According to Bhkuham et al. (2012), the lack of effective information retrieval skills is a factor affecting users’ access to electronic information. Mulholland and Bates (2014) recommended better-targeted instruction and training aimed at academic staff and students. Information literacy training at UNAM is at its initial stage, there is no formal program and the training is not integrated in the curriculum. The university is currently piloting the drafted information literacy program that started in 2017, which is aimed to train the first-year students doing an English course. In addition, the library also organise training in e-resources for new academics annually at the beginning of the academic year, but a holistic approach is needed to integrate the training on e-resources in courses such as computer literacy, research methodology and proposal writing.

  5. It is essential that the library develops its electronic e-book collection to provide relevant and in-demand titles needed by students and in line with the curriculum by doing the following:

    • acquire all prescribed textbooks and recommended reading in electronic format; and

    • involve lecturers and students in the selection and acquisition of e-books.

Greater availability of titles, promotion and better integration within teaching and learning emerge as key requisites for effective service delivery and enhancement of e-books use in academic libraries (Mulholland and Bates, 2014). Due to the multidisciplinary nature of UNAM and the fact that most programmes are offered at satellite campuses that are not geographically close to each other, an investment in e-books instead of buying multiple copies for each campus will be cost effective. The UNAM Library Collection Development Policy and the library quality assurance review conducted during September 2018 also recommend for the acquisition of electronic resources, especially for prescribed and recommended books for the courses offered at multiple campuses. However, it has been difficult to implement this because of the different business models used by different book vendors and publishers and the lack of a universal platform and software required to download e-books. UNAM should, however, strive to acquire relevant and prescribed titles in the electronic format and consider the recommendation of McKiel (2007) for better integration into the curriculum and promotion of their usage. His recommendations are:

  • encourage students to use e-books as a viable source;

  • use chapters/sections for course reading;

  • include links to e-books in course management software; and

  • recommend e-books for entire text reading as prescribed or recommended textbooks.

This requires good collaboration between the library and academics.

Further research

A limitation of this study is that only a small sample of the fourth-year students from the Windhoek campus was included in the study due to shortage of time. A broader study on the use of e-books or a replication study should be conducted amongst all the undergraduate students across 12 UNAM campuses. This study attempted to investigate the usage of and views about e-books in general. There is a need for further study that can look at the variances in the usage of e-books in different disciplines and from other groups of library users such as academics, postgraduate students and distance students. The researchers also recommend that a further study should be conducted to investigate the actual behaviour of students when using e-books and other online resources, by using log analysis as a method of collecting data.


The age categories of the respondents

Figure 1

The age categories of the respondents

Male versus female distribution

Figure 2

Male versus female distribution

The distribution of respondents across faculties

Figure 3

The distribution of respondents across faculties

Respondents’ views about their computer skills

Figure 4

Respondents’ views about their computer skills

Integration of qualitative and quantitative findings

Integrated analysis of the findings
Integrated qualitative findings Quantitative finding
Awareness of e-books Awareness and use of e-books
Understand e-book as term and object
Experienced use of e-books
Prefer e-books to printed books
Have knowledge about e-books (76%)
Do not have knowledge about e-books (24%)
Have used e-books a couple of times (44%)
Have used e-books once (16%)
Have often used e-books (9%)
Have never used e-books (33%)
Medium used to access e-books Medium used to access e-books
Library website
Free search engines
Library catalogue
Commercial sites
Library website (40.95%),
Free search engines (29.52%)
Commercial sites (9.52%)
Library catalogue (15.24%)
Purpose for using e-books Purpose for using e-books
Search information for assignments or research Use e-books for course work (45%)
Use e-books for research purposes (43.2%)
Use e-books for leisure reading (11.6%)
Advantages of e-books Advantages of e-books
Ease of use
Low cost of e-books
Includes functionalities like e-mail, save and print
Searchability (23.5%)
Convenience (20.59%)
Portability (13.24%)
Accessibility (13.24%)
Easy to use (8.82%)
Low cost (8.82%
Do not occupy physical space (11.76%)
Barriers to the use of e-books Barriers to the use of e-books
Lack of knowledge
Know-how knowledge
Internet availability
Limited or lack of relevant content in e-books
Limited or lack of the necessary hardware
Influence of screens on reading and learning
Accessing e-books on the UNAM website
Access to e-books
Difficult reading e-books (eye strain)
Slow internet (39.01%)
Lack of knowledge (lack of awareness 63.38% and lack of skills required to fully utilise e-books, 39.44%)
Preference for print (12.2%)
Lack of integration of e-books in the UNAM curriculum (19.72%)
Absence or unavailability of in-demand titles needed by students (16.90%)
Print versus e-books Print versus e-books
18 out of 26 respondents preferred e-books 68% preferred e-books
32% preferred print books
Reasons for not using e-books Reasons for not using e-books
Not aware of the existence of e-books
Difficult to access e-books
Not aware of the availability of e-books (27.6%)
Lack of skills on how to access e-books (20.4%)
E-books are difficult to access (11.2%)
Never referred to e-books when searching for information (17.2%)
Absence of relevant books (8.2%)
Preferences for print (12.2%)



It is also referred to as talk-aloud, verbal protocols or verbal reports.


Smart Survey is an online survey tool, developed in the UK, that allows one to design questionnaires, collect data and analyse the data.


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This article is a short extraction and summary from the thesis on “Views about, adoption and usage of e-books at the University of Namibia” that was done at the University of South Africa. The thesis link could be found at: http://uir.unisa.ac.za/handle/10500/23180

Corresponding author

Anna Leonard can be contacted at: aleonard@unam.na