I understand the nervousness of some taxpayers now that Mayor Larry O’Brien has abandoned as unrealistic the “Zero means zero” tax freeze mantra he rode into office. Council even rejected a 2.9 per cent cap on budget increases this year.

First in line for a top-up is the Ottawa Public Library, which is seeking a 7.5 per cent increase in its budget, to $35.6 million.

If I was on council (and I think we’re lucky I’m not) my reaction would be, “Is that all?”

While huge amounts are rubber-stamped every year for roads, libraries, too, are vital infrastructure, guaranteeing information to everyone regardless of income, high-speed Internet access, job search resources and more.

We sometimes assume lean, mean private sector can do everything better than the stodgy old public facilities. Business spends grabillions on advertising to convince us this is the case.
Sometimes it is, sometimes it ain’t.

Earlier this year, I tried in vain for weeks to find a copy of an out-of-print book. After striking out with bookstores, online sources, and even the book’s publisher, I finally did what I should have done in the first place and put in an inter-library loan request at the OPL. The book soon arrived, fast and free.

Libraries work quietly and are often taken for granted, but they take top people. Barbara Clubb, our city librarian, this year won awards from the Canadian Library Association and the Public Library Association.

This summer, she demonstrated her mettle in the face of would-be censors who objected to the inclusion of sex manuals in the library’s collection. The books stayed.

There was another controversy a few years ago about library patrons accessing pornography on the Internet terminals.

Technical solutions were discussed and rejected. Internet keyword filters, for example, can frustrate searches for breast cancer information as easily as they thwart plain old boob enthusiasts.

In the end, common sense prevailed over censorship. When users sign on, they can choose filtered or unfiltered Internet access.

And it’s not just censors librarians battle on behalf of your freedom to read. When the U.S.

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, including broad provisions for authorities to secretly access library records to find out what citizens had been reading, it was the American Library Association that sounded the alarm.

It’s hard to put a price on such service, but personally, I’d give ’em the 7.5 per cent.