Academics should brace themselves for "severe" cuts in access to new books and journals in the next academic year as higher costs caused by the fall in the value of the pound put libraries under pressure.
Times Higher Education reported in January that the drop in the pound's value was having a "crippling effect" on the budgets of UK university libraries, which faced huge increases in subscriptions costs for research journals from the US and elsewhere in Europe.
Now a new survey of 38 university libraries conducted by the Research Information Network (RIN) reveals just how serious the situation is.
Preliminary findings presented to Times Higher Education show that although the current academic year has been "financially challenging", it is in 2009-10 that the pinch will really be felt.
The survey shows that nearly 40 per cent of libraries plan cuts to books and serial purchases from next year. One in five plans to cancel one or more so-called big deals with publishing houses to access bundles of journals online. A single bundle can contain hundreds of titles.
Michael Jubb, director of the RIN, said that many university libraries had already overspent in the current academic year and some had been forced to cut budgets. But it was 2009-10 that would be the "much bigger problem".
"We are facing the prospect of significant reductions in access to a wide range of journals and severe cuts in the availability of books ... which could do severe damage to research and teaching in UK universities," he said.
"In some libraries, the extra costs for journal licences that they will face next year, simply as a result of the fall in the value of the pound, exceed the total of their current budgets for buying books."
Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College, National and University Libraries (Sconul), said the swift slide in the value of sterling since the start of the current academic year had "caused havoc" for libraries.
He said many had received invoices in January for orders placed last September that punched six-figure holes in budgets. "I have heard stories of £500,000 rises at some large research-intensive universities," he said.
Although many vice-chancellors had listened to special pleas and authorised contingency funds, he said these covered only the current academic year. "2009-10 is going to be the really bad time ... It is a problem for the entire institution because the only thing to cut is the big deals of journals, and that means hundreds of titles at once, which will affect researchers all over the university."