According to the government, authors such as Dryden, Keats and Dickens should be at the heart of school life. But far from valuing literature, secondaries are spending as little as the cost of a packet of crisps on new books for their pupils each year.
A survey by the School Library Association (SLA), which asked more than 1,000 library staff in secondaries about their budgets, found that one academy spent just 31p per pupil each year on books and another only 62p, compared with the #163;14 for secondaries recommended by charity Booktrust five years ago.
With school budgets increasingly tight, the average annual book spend per pupil in secondaries is now just #163;4.28, according to the SLA. Compared to three years ago, only a third of respondents said they were now spending more on books.
Tricia Adams, director of the SLA, said the results indicate "less and less of a high-quality service being provided for our pupils".
"We know some secondary schools do not have libraries, usually due to budget or space considerations," she said. "Those schools with a good library recognise what it does for the school, but those that just have a room full of books with no librarian - or no library at all - don't see what they're missing.
"Without the skills and pleasures that reading and researching can give us, we will have a cohort of pupils lacking essential life and work skills."
While the situation is bad for secondaries, primaries appear to be faring better. The 100 primary school libraries that responded were spending #163;10.25 per child each year, more than the #163;10 recommended by Booktrust, although the relatively small number of replies casts doubt on whether this is typical.
Alan Gibbons, children's author and libraries campaigner, said that library budgets in many schools are stagnant, meaning that the amount of money being spent on books is falling in real terms after inflation.
"In a lot of places, budgets have been slashed, and I know three or four schools where the librarian has no budget whatsoever," Mr Gibbons said. "That said, one state school has #163;20,000. That's exceptional, but it's clear it depends on the attitude of the senior management team.
"The government could do more. It's hypocritical to say they are in favour of reading for pleasure and then leave it to heads. They don't leave safeguarding to heads; they don't give primary heads an option over doing phonics or the SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test. They should say to schools they have to have a library and the government should resource that. They should put their money where their mouth is."
The report - due to be published on Monday - also suggests that the staffing of school libraries is worsening. The SLA said it had been contacted about positions being made redundant or being re-advertised as term-time only, instead of full-time.
The SLA found that 85 per cent of secondary libraries surveyed were run by a trained librarian, with the rest run by assistant librarians or learning resource managers. It is calling for government support for trained librarians in secondary schools and for Ofsted to inspect the role of libraries in schools' literacy policies.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the amount of money spent does not give a complete picture of library provision. "It may be that a school has a very well-stocked library and in one particular year decides not to make it a priority," he said. "There is a finite pot of resources and schools have to make hard decisions about where to allocate limited funds. I'm certain the majority of schools are very committed to having a high-quality library."
The School Library Commission, chaired by Baroness Estelle Morris in 2010, called for the role of libraries to be strengthened, but fell short of recommending that school library provision should be statutory.
School library services, which provide books and learning resources, mostly to primary schools but also to some secondaries, are also suffering under budget cuts. Eight school library services have closed in the past three years, most recently in Hertfordshire, which shut its service in March.
The closures mean that 776,000 children whose schools would have had access to a school library service in 2009 have now lost that option.