More than 400 United States scientists and scholars have condemned further funding cuts for university and college libraries and demanded that the government set up an office for scientific and technical information.
The protest follows a $330 million drop in annual financial support for academic libraries over the past 15 years, a period during which administrative spending by universities and colleges rose by $496 million a year and student tuition doubled. Academic libraries now spend about $1 billion a year on all materials, less than 1 per cent of total higher education spending.
Albert Henderson, editor of Publishing Research Quarterly, and one of the organisers of the newly formed Committee for the Preservation of Science and Academic Information Resources, said: "Spending on libraries has not kept up with research, it's not kept up with instruction and it certainly has not kept up with administration.
"This is a crisis that has been going on quietly for a long time, but nobody paid any attention to it."
The new group has circulated a petition, which has by been signed by 413 academics. They blame the rise in administrative spending for cuts in library support and fear that the decline will also deter publication of research materials that depend primarily on library sales.
Peter Rehnquist, executive director of the American Association of University Presses, said: "It's clear that fewer of those kind of books can be published. With the library cutbacks, in addition to the other pressures that have occurred, they're not supportable."
Library purchases of papers and journals have plummeted. The 120 largest research libraries bought 100,000 fewer papers in 1992 than they did the year before, according to the Association of Research Libraries.
Mr Rehnquist said: "Twenty-five years ago, a scholarly paper might be printed and sell in the neighbourhood of 1,500 to 2,000 copies. Today, that relatively narrow paper would sell fewer than 1,000 copies. For a very specialised subject, you'd be lucky to sell 500."
More than half of all libraries report that they cannot afford to buy all new academic papers. Fifteen years ago, only 5 per cent said the papers were too costly.
The problem is not limited to small or unfamiliar campuses. In the past decade, Rutgers has cut its library's share of educational and general expenditures by 41 per cent, Stanford by 22 per cent, Berkeley by 20 per cent and Yale by 14 per cent.
"You find a sort of schizophrenic politics going on," Mr Henderson said. "One segment says, 'We must do what the university president says'. The second segment says, 'This is wrong', but they're in the minority."