Unison Scotland recently published a report on the beleaguered state of the nation's libraries. It was titled, simply, Read It and Weep.

Members of the public sector union working in schools were particularly dismayed. "The will to improve school libraries is non-existent, which is particularly galling in light of the First Minister's recent comments about literacy," one said, adding: "Research on [the] positive role of school libraries has been ignored by the Scottish Government, who pass the buck re staffing back to councils".

It is not just Unison who are concerned. Last December, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland described school libraries as "standing on the edge of a cliff" and accused councils of failing to understand their benefits. EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan cites school librarians as "the linchpins of school literacy programmes, which may grind to a halt when they are removed".

The pressure on council finances is a given, much discussed in these pages. It is clear local authorities are facing difficult choices and no cut is an easy one. But it is hard to imagine a more damaging move than Argyll and Bute Council's proposal to make all of its school librarians redundant over the next three years.

It should go without saying that the barbed comment aimed at Ms Sturgeon is quite right. We can't profess concern about literacy levels in schools while doing away with experienced professional library staff - or suggesting that senior pupils can stand in for them. That was the well-meaning but ill-considered plan proposed by East Renfrewshire recently, until an outcry forced that council to think again.

But these local authorities are not alone. More than half a dozen Scottish council have passed or are considering budgets which would remove school librarians or drastically curtail their roles, making it plain that their duties - which have no statutory backing - are seen as a soft target.

It would be a mistake to think school librarians are simply responsible for stamping out books and helping pupils find the latest Jeff Kinney or David Walliams.

A school librarian's job can include encouraging children to read for pleasure of course, but also reinforces and supports the Curriculum for Excellence, with its focus on self-directed learning and cross-curricular topic-based study. They have a vital role in many schools in teaching internet safety and digital literacy - crucial skills in the 21st century.

At a time when tackling the attainment gap between the better off and the most disadvantaged pupils is a national priority, school libraries and the staff who run them should clearly be a priority too.

Argyll and Bute's budget choices are subject to public consultation. It is to be hoped that, like East Renfrewshire, they are forced to rethink.

Meanwhile the fact that such measures are even being considered are further evidence of the need for a rethink of Scottish local government. As The Herald has argued in our Reshaping Scotland series, we need to consider whether 32 separate councils running separate variants of similar services remains viable in the current climate. And we need an urgent review of our local tax system so councils have the money they need to pay for local services, and voters pay their fair share.