Younger children are the most likely to have to share - 60 per cent do so compared to nearly one in two secondary schoolchildren.
Only a third of pupils could borrow books to take home, according to the study of more than 4,000 pupils in 22 schools carried out by Keele University's centre for successful schools.
Most thought that access to their own books was important in helping them to understand their work better. "We do not have enough course books in each class because we have to share in large numbers. This gets very annoying when several people are on different pages of the book," said one.
Maths books were more readily available with 70 per cent in all year groups saying they had their own copies in lessons, but for English and science the figures were lower. Sixth-formers fared best with three-quarters owning a course book compared with 40 per cent in Year 7.
The greatest discrepancy came at key stage 3 with more than a half having their own maths book, but only a quarter for English and below a fifth for science. Apart from answering a questionnaire, pupils were invited to add their comments.
One in five children said their parents were obliged to buy books to help them with their studies. But some pointed out that their parents could not afford to as they were unemployed.
Three-quarters of the sample were satisfied with the school library, except for maths books where only half were happy with the selection. The youngest were the most content, but only a third of the sixth form were satisfied.
One complained: "School library books are well out of date, mostly bought between 1975-1986; information useless. They don't have any Terry Pratchett (science fantasy) books."
"The books are a bit tatty and don't have pictures," said another. "I think we should get some horror and Goosebump books."
"Our best books are full of graffiti and drawings which doesn't help, but some are quite helpful," concluded a third pupil.
The use and availability of books in schools, Department of Education, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG.
* Delegation danger, page 14