Relying on individual subscriptions for your institution does not
violate copyright law, but it does violate most publishers' policies.
Doing this is unethical insofar as your library is misrepresenting
itself to the publisher.
As others have mentioned, the practical aspects should be your primary
concern. I think two are especially important:
1. With gift subscriptions, the library is not the subscriber of record.
You cannot claim missing issues, the renewals will not go to you, and
you can't ensure they'll be paid. So you'll lose all control over the
receipt of issues. It is certain that you'll end up with numerous gaps
in your collection.
2. Substituting gifts for real subscriptions hides the impact of budget
cuts on your institution. I recommend that your library NOT try to cover
for the management's decision. Make the required cuts and let folks see
the true impact.
This won't fix your immediate problem, but you may want to take the
cuts as an opportunity to encourage your patrons to write letters in
support of the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (S.2695). The
bill requires federal agencies that fund over $100 million in annual
external research (e.g. NIH) to make electronic manuscripts of
peer-reviewed journal articles stemming from their research publicly
available via the Internet. See additional info at
Reference, Serials, and Instruction Librarian
The College of Saint Rose
392 Western Avenue
Albany, NY 12203-1419