Children's authors such as Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman are calling for a halt to the "shocking decline" in England's school libraries.
They, along with 148 others, wrote to Education Secretary Justine Greening, asking her to signal her belief in the "value of literacy" for learning.
She is being urged to set up a national service and to safeguard the positions of qualified librarians in schools.
The government said spending on libraries was decided by schools.
A recent survey suggests more than a quarter of schools have no librarian.
The letter is signed by many of the big names in children's literature, including former children's laureate Chris Riddell, Roger McGough, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, and historical writer Lady Antonia Fraser.
It says: "Since 2008, the provision of adequately staffed libraries in schools and colleges with up-to-date learning and reading resources has declined sharply.
"Before they can read to learn, children and young people must first learn to read, to research and successfully to navigate today's information-rich world.
"As the situation stands in England, whereas the provision of appropriately staffed public and prison libraries is statutory on local government and HM Prisons Service, the provision of school and college libraries is not."
The letter adds that Ofsted is considering guidelines for inspectors to consider how schools and colleges access the support of a trained librarian.
"However, the urgent need is with us now - we must act now to counter the loss of school and college libraries before we consign a generation to a lifetime of low attainment and mobility," it says.
The letter highlights how England has lower rates of teenage literacy than other developed nations, according to international rankings.
And it claims there is a general decline in the number of books issued to children, adding there has not been a related increase in electronic books.
Ministers say they want all children to have the opportunity to read widely.
"School libraries play a role in this and schools are responsible for deciding how to provide this service for their pupils," said a Department for Education representative.
"We have introduced the National Funding Formula from 2018-19, backed by £1.3bn of additional investment, which will put an end to historic funding disparities in the system and provide significant gains for underfunded schools of up to 3% per pupil in 2018-19 and a further 3% in 2019-20.
"We leave it up to schools to spend their funding as they see fit."