Figures from the chief inspectors annual report of February 1997, show that the work of a quarter of all secondary schools is hindered by book shortages which make class teaching and the setting of homework difficult.
According to the National Literacy Association, one in six young people leaving school this year are unable to read, write or spell well enough to deal with everyday life.
Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown said: 'Today is World Book Day and it is also the anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. Yet, today in Britain one in six of our young adults cannot read properly.
'Other countries in Europe spend three times as much on school books as we do in the UK. That's why Liberal Democrats today pledge an extra£1.75bn to schools for books and equipment over the next five years - that's an extra£16,000 for a typical primary school and£110,000 for a typical secondary school in the first year alone.
'Our pledge means that, in the first year, Liberal Democrats will provide, on average, an extra£64 worth of books and equipment for each primary school pupil and£110 worth for each secondary school student. A secondary school could purchase thousands of new books and still have enough money to update computer equipment. These extra resources will have a huge impact on our schools.
'With this pledge, all we are saying is, 'give young people a chance'.'
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said: 'As we approach the 21st century, the lack of resources for education and training is a national scandal. Britain is failing to invest in the nation's most valuable asset - its people.
'Literacy levels would improve if all children had the benefit of high quality early years education. It is the first step to achieving high educational standards in later life. That is why, along with our pledge on books and equipment, a top priority for Liberal Democrats is to provide high quality early years education for all three and four year olds.
'Only the Liberal Democrats will give teachers the resources they need to combat poor literacy and numeracy. That is why we will target additional funds at the chalk face.
'Our aim is to ensure that no child born in Britain today will grow up to be an illiterate adult unable to make sense of the challenges of the new century. Only the Liberal Democrats will provide the resources to buy the school books needed to fill our children's empty satchels.'