Posts Tagged ‘CPSIA and libraries’

“There Is No Joy In Toyland”

Former Congresswoman Anne Northup, now a commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, AnimalsBall5chad an op-ed in the Journal last week on the continuing damage being wrought by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Related: Rick Woldenberg (“Big Toy may be prospering right now, but the little guy is getting killed”). And Karen Raugust at Publisher’s Weekly has a year-end status report on the unpleasant effects of the law on various segments of the kids’ book business, including retailers, “book-plus” and novelty book makers, and one of the most seriously endangered groups, sellers of vintage children’s books.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Elise Bake, Der Ball Der Tiere (“The Animals’ Ball”, German, 1891), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

CPSIA: “The Waiting Game Continues for Libraries”

Karen Raugust, Publisher’s Weekly, on some recent clarification (not exactly relief) for makers and sellers of new books under the Draconian law:

The Consumer Products Safety Commission recently issued a final lead rule that deemed many—but not all—of the components in ordinary children’s books safe. …

Most ink-on-paper and ink-on-board books will not have to undergo testing under various CPSC rulings. (Some so-called “ordinary” books, such as those with gold foil or spiral bindings, must be tested, and big retailers may require testing even when the CPSIA doesn’t.) All novelty and book-plus formats for children 12 and under must be tested by independent labs.

SpiderMean2However, the CPSC has yet to issue promised guidance to libraries on pre-1985 books:

Thom Barthelmess, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, says most librarians are waiting to see what happens. “We’re hoping for a happy resolution, so our collections aren’t decimated,” he says. If the CPSC’s ruling results in libraries needing to pull books from shelves, “there would be huge ramifications,” he continues. “If we lose a lot of titles printed before 1986, many of which are irreplaceable, it would have a huge impact on the nature of our collections.”

We’ve linked the coverage in Publisher’s Weekly several times over the course of the year but overlooked this report from March:

Most booksellers are now comfortable selling ordinary paper children’s books printed in 1986 and beyond. …

Half Price [Half Price Books, a large chain] removed all book-plus items from the shelves in every store and is warehousing them while it researches how to dispose of them in a safe and environmentally sound way, perhaps at a hazardous waste site.

And an official of the Independent Online Booksellers Association told PW in March that most members of the association were positioning their vintage children’s books as adult collectibles, which supposedly reduces legal risk, though as we noted in February, “the law provides that [retailers] are liable if they sell a product which will commonly be understood as destined for use by children, whether or not they label it as such.” Deputy Headmistress in February and Valerie Jacobsen in March also explained more about the practical drawbacks of the “relabel as collectibles” dodge, as has Elizabeth Mullaney Nicol more recently.

P.S. And welcome listeners at Hartford’s WTIC, where host Ray Dunaway had me as a guest on his show this morning to discuss the law. You’ll find much more here.

PUBLIC DOMAIN GRAPHIC: Edith Brown, illustrator, Jeannette Marks, The Cheerful Cricket and Others (1907), courtesy The Children’s Library.

CPSIA developments; posting lull

I’ve got an out of town trip over the next few days, so posting from me is likely to consist of a relatively few scheduled short posts.

There have been several important developments with CPSIA over the past month, to which time has not yet permitted me to do justice. In particular, the CPSC late last month issued guidance on the tracking-label rules that take effect later this week. Its interpretation is more lenient on several issues than most observers were expecting, particularly for craft and small-batch producers, but the rules remain a gigantic headache for thousands of businesses.

Even more recently, the commission offered further guidance on a few other issues, notably its interpretation of what materials will be considered inherently free of lead under normal circumstances. These new rules are being cautiously welcomed as helpful to some in (for example) the apparel trade, but they are unfortunately bad news for friends of many other products, in particular vintage children’s books, which are not going to be considered intrinsically safe. Finally, the commission appears to be giving off some favorable signals on the issue of “component testing” (i.e., avoiding endless and costly re-testing of already-tested product components).

I hope to treat these new developments at more length in future posts. In the mean time, here are some relevant links:

Tracking labels: commission action and policy in PDF, Rick Woldenberg coverage, Kathleen Fasanella/Fashion Incubator, Buggalove, Play Meter (scroll to 7/27), Greco Woodcrafting, Publisher’s Weekly and earlier, Hugh Hewitt.

Intrinsically safe materials: CPSC final rule in PDF format, Rick Woldenberg and more, The Smart Mama.

The fate of vintage books: Deputy Headmistress and more, Rick Woldenberg, and — from back in the spring but not linked then — Assistant Village Idiot, Deputy Headmistress, Carter Wood, and Valerie Jacobsen as well as more.

CPSIA and books: “A bad law threatens our past”

KidBookSilverPencilElizabeth Mullaney Nicol has an excellent article in The New Atlantis on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and its appalling consequences for old children’s books and the cultural inheritance they represent. (If you’re new to this topic, we’ve covered it extensively here and here.) Among the questions she addresses:

Isn’t there a wealth of worthwhile children’s literature published since 1985 for kids to read?

[Older books,] as a group, have certain desirable characteristics. Children’s books of yore tend to use more sophisticated, literary language than their more recent counterparts. The quality of their paper, bindings, and illustrations are often superior. Vintage children’s books assume and encourage the readers’ fascination with adventure, their eagerness to learn about the world, their respect for great men and women.

Won’t the really good older books survive in post-1985 reprint editions that can be sold without fear of liability? (Yes, one really does hear this argument.)
KidBookCircusBaby

Some books from the 1950s and 60s are back in print, but with updated illustrations so the characters appear to be from our time; if that’s what it takes to lure readers who are wary of anyone who doesn’t look like them to pick up the books, it’s probably fine, but there is also value in presenting books with a style of illustration and characters with a style of dress from a different time, and that’s what we get with old copies. Some books, such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, are thoroughly “updated” for today’s readers—simplified, abbreviated, substituting familiar words for those no longer commonly used—so if a child is going to read the originals he needs to read old copies….

Some old books, it is true, express ideas and attitudes of which we would disapprove, prejudices and errors that make modern readers wince. But learning about such sentiments firsthand is at the heart of what it means to learn our history. Moreover, while correcting some of these past problems, our present age has its own objectionable attitudes.

Won’t older children’s books still be available when intended for adult use, say as collectibles or for research?

But the availability of these books to children is the very purpose and value of preserving them. We want them in children’s hands, being read, not only preserved on the dusty back shelves of research libraries. Quantities are important — quantities of titles, and quantities of each title, so they are readily available for loan from public libraries and for purchase through used booksellers. Families have been able to build home libraries through priced-for-reading book sales and thrift stores. … We are suddenly facing the prospect that many of these books will be destroyed, making those that remain all the more rare and inaccessible.
KidBookTamingTiger
Some used booksellers, trying valiantly to continue selling books for children, are re-labeling their children’s books as collectors’ editions. But this obscures the books from searches by those looking for ordinary children’s books, it clutters the market for real collectibles, it makes the bookseller look ignorant of his trade, and it is prohibited under CPSIA, which stipulates that a book “commonly recognized” as being meant for children’s use will be regulated as such.

The article’s strength, I should note by way of quibble, is not as legal advice: it somewhat overstates the stringency of the law, which does not ban the sale of all untested pre-1985 kids’ books as such, instead exposing booksellers to punishment when they guess wrong about whether a given volume would meet current standards (hence the CPSC’s guidance advising retailers to discard them all). And the call for “sequestering” library copies has thus far come from only one member of the three-member CPSC, not as yet the full commission. As a summation of what will be lost to children and the nation if Congress does not change this law, however, the article is one of the best yet. Read it here.

Relatedly, Ken at Popehat is still trying to grasp the news that according to our federal government:

Children’s books have limited useful life (approx 20 years)

And since Rep. Henry Waxman, closely identified with CPSIA and its defense, has a new book out, Carter Wood at ShopFloor wonders whether this topic is going to come up at any of his bookstore appearances.

P.S. Fenris Lorsrai at LiveJournal reprinted the Nicol article and in so doing prompted some interesting reader comments.

GRAPHICS courtesy VintageChildrensBooks.com.

CPSIA chronicles, June 18

kingstork21

  • As noted earlier, the next all-out debacle on the CPSIA front is expected to result from the law’s tracking and labeling regulations, due to take effect August 14, and for which the CPSC has not yet issued guidance, although product makers ordinarily need to resolve crucial issues of manufacturing (as with etching of lot numbers) and packaging at least many months if not longer in advance of sale. Sharon McLoone at CNNMoney had quite a good report a week ago on this latest crisis, which as of this writing has not been followed up much of anywhere else in the press. This continues the pattern in which 1) most key elements of the ongoing CPSIA disaster get good coverage in at least one (sometimes more) major media outlets; 2) the bigger-picture disaster of the law never quite succeeds in breaking out into general coverage as a national story, in large part because 3) the agenda-setting New York Times never consents (even six months into the story!) to give the matter any coverage at all. For more hints on the approaching tracking-label train wreck, see this op-ed by a South Carolina maker of school supplies (“Companies such as ours are now forced to guess about their new legal requirements. … My company may have to change labels hundreds of times a week in our two factories. The investment necessary to handle this new rule alone is crippling.”), or the comments of appliquéd bib maker Laurel Schreiber of Lucy’s Pocket (if the testing doesn’t get her, the tracking labels will), or of New Jersey wooden toy maker John Greco (advised that tracking info would add $3.50 to $5.00 to cost of making $10 handmade toy). And here’s a view from the home furnishings business.
  • No, the menace to pre-1985 children’s books has not gone away, not in the least. Librarians and publishers remain on the edge of their seats awaiting exemptions, clarifications or both. There was some good coverage last month in the Sioux Falls Business Journal (store owner Jenny Cook “had to throw out only 30 books at her store to comply” because most were newer; “Siouxland Libraries has pulled a list of books that were published before 1985″) and at Syracuse.com (“When you think through the implications, it means closing our libraries to children”). And in a sign of possible things to come, ABC-affiliated stations in Seattle and Washington, D.C. have now run sensationalist “toxic books!” attacks on local libraries [Common Room, ShopFloor] More: Winifred Maker, Anderson Valley Post (April).
  • The CPSC’s stay of enforcement didn’t really solve the problem of the ban on dirtbikes and mini-ATVs, and responsible users and dealers end up getting the short end of the stick [Jason Giacchino/ATVSource, Vince Castellanos/ESPN FMX, Motorcycle Industry Council, Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier]
  • Downtown Los Angeles is home to an estimated 500 toy companies — most of them far smaller than crosstown giant Mattel — and they’re in much distress from the law. [Alexa Hyland, L.A. Business Journal] The L.A. Times, which once gave serious scrutiny to the law’s effects on the apparel and resale sectors, seems (scroll) to be dropping the ball.
  • Those who remain in the kids’-product business after coping with all the other parts of the law will also want to educate themselves about “recall escrows” [Rick Woldenberg]
  • Inez Tenenbaum, named by Obama as new CPSC chair, had her confirmation hearing on Tuesday [ShopFloor and more, Rick Woldenberg]. Nancy Nord earlier stepped down from her role as acting chair.
  • What, what, what could they have been thinking? The American Library Association has actually given its 2009 Public Service Award to California Senator Barbara Boxer, a key architect of some of CPSIA’s provisions; the retroactive phthalates ban she championed has been especially effective in forcing “books-plus” off library shelves, and she has turned a coldly unsympathetic ear to cries of distress over the law (via @melanes). To repeat: what could the ALA have been thinking?
  • micebellcat2

Public domain images courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org: Walter Crane, illustrator, The Baby’s Aesop (1887).

White House nominates two to CPSC

goldeneggs21 President Obama has nominated South Carolina lawyer and former schools commissioner Inez Moore Tenenbaum to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and former CPSC staffer/academic Robert Adler as a member of the commission (White House press release). The appointments are likely to bring important implications for CPSIA reform, since they would double the number of active CPSC commissioners (joining Republican Nancy Nord and Democrat Thomas Moore) and since many Democrats on Capitol Hill have refused to work with Nord, the current acting chair. Unfortunately, the new appointments carry with them some definite elements of bad news for the cause of CPSIA reform, and it takes some fairly strenuous guesswork and supposition to see this bad news as balanced by any good news.

  • Start with the relatively good (or at least neutral) news. Inez Tenenbaum, the designated chair, is an important political ally of President Obama’s (background: Howard Fineman, Newsweek) best known for her work on a different subject, education (and in fact evidently tossed the CPSC as a consolation prize for not getting the job she wanted, the Cabinet post of Secretary of Education). An optimistic view would be that because Tenenbaum has not spent the past year digging into an entrenched defense of CPSIA and all its works, she might be free to rethink the issue, developing more nuanced or moderate positions that acknowledge the views of CPSC career staff on the law’s various defects. And because of her background as an education advocate, she might be particularly sympathetic to the pleas of libraries and schools harmed by the law. That’s the optimistic theory, anyway.
  • Let’s be frank: for virtually any Democratic administration, an overriding political consideration in staffing the CPSC is finding someone acceptable to the plaintiff’s personal injury bar, the one anchor-tenant Democratic constituency that cares intensely about the agency’s work. Tenenbaum appears to pass this test: in her 2004 Senate campaign, she drew substantial contributions from two of the South’s best-known injury law firms, Motley Rice ($17,250) and Beasley Allen ($19,000). Incidentally, Tenenbaum lost that 2004 race to none other than Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who emerged in recent months as the sponsor of the most serious and far-reaching bill to reform CPSIA. Most likely it’s sheer coincidence, but let’s hope DeMint wasn’t relying on a sympathetic ear from CPSC for his legislation.
  • Obama also announced that he is calling for an expansion of the CPSC from three to five seats, and that he intends to nominate for one of the new seats veteran Washington consumer-safety hand (and now University of North Carolina professor) Robert Adler, who participated in the CPSC transition effort on behalf of the incoming Obama-Biden team. Few figures are more closely identified than Adler with the cluster of Washington institutions and personalities that brought us CPSIA: after serving in a staff capacity at CPSC for many years he joined the staff of none other than Rep. Henry Waxman, where his work included overseeing the agency. As the White House press release also notes, Adler “has been elected six times to the board of directors of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine”; in its blind and clueless advocacy of a maximally onerous CPSIA, Consumers Union has taken a back seat only to Public Citizen and PIRG. Another online source describes Adler as a “longtime colleague” of Pamela Gilbert, a key figure both in the litigation lobby (Public Citizen, PIRG, trial lawyer lobbying) and in CPSC affairs.
  • Among early press coverage, Bloomberg News is out with a reasonably fact-filled account that at least acknowledges in a passing sentence the continuing outcry over CPSIA’s calamitous effects on producers and sellers. That contrasts with the short, lame account in the New York Times, and the longer, much-worse-than-lame account in the L.A. Times, from which you’d think the only controversial thing about the agency was that it was too lenient on the regulated. You do have to wonder whether L.A. Times reporter Mark Silva even reads the stories in his own paper.

More: Deputy Headmistress has been thinking along very similar lines. And Sen. DeMint has kind words for nominee Tenenbaum.
Public domain image courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org: Walter Crane, illustrator, The Baby’s Aesop (1887).

CPSIA: Things I learned at the rally

Last Wednesday’s CPSIA rally at the Capitol drew an overflow crowd of hundreds, with thousands more reportedly watching from around the world via webcast. Many speakers had powerful stories to tell, and cameras from CNN and ABC were on hand to record them; AP mentioned the event in covering the dirtbike-ban story. There is, as you might imagine, no way to upstage a six-year-old motocross champion who declares from the podium, “I promise I won’t eat my dirt bike”.

A few things I learned by attending:

  • Ordinary bikes (not the motorized kind) are clearly out of compliance with the law because of the leaded brass in certain components, and have been given no exemption. I’m still wondering why the CPSC directed the motorbike dealers to tarp over their inventory but did not do the same with the ordinary-bike dealers. Earlier here; much more (PDF) in this CPSC submission by Mayer Brown for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.
  • Until I saw their handout leaflet, it hadn’t sunk in that the non-profit and charitable giants in resale, including Goodwill, Salvation Army, Easter Seals, Volunteers of America, and St. Vincent de Paul, have banded together in a Donated Goods Coalition. Good for them, and I hope someone listens.
  • Held up for inspection

  • Even blogging the subject as much as I have, I’ve somehow said almost nothing about CPSIA’s requirements for batch numbering, labeling and tracking of kids’ products, due to hit later this year. It seems these requirements all by themselves will suffice to wipe out small producers in droves even if the crazy testing requirements can somehow be made sane.  A few write-ups touching on the subject: Handmade Toy Alliance (Word document), Kathleen Fasanella/Fashion Incubator, Publisher’s Weekly.
  • The rally happened because of the efforts of grass-roots business people around the country, above all Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources. (The story of the Oregon delegation could stand for that of many others.) Motorbike people were much in evidence. Also present: people from trade associations from regular businesses not been much heard from in the CPSIA furor of recent months, including makers of shoes and footwear, cribs, and even household cleansers, all of whom turned out to have stories to tell. Who knew there was a whole association specializing in the little items you get when you put in the quarter in the vending machine and turn the crank?
  • Kids’-book author (and valued commenter) Carol Baicker-McKee was there and gave a superb talk, making effective use of a copy of Orwell’s 1984. Otherwise, however, among groups deeply affected by the legislation, the book and library trades were conspicuous by their absence. I wasn’t the only one who noticed this; so did Publisher’s Weekly.
  • I finally got to meet face to face many persons who have been favorably mentioned in these columns over the past three months. I was not surprised to find a whole lot of nice, dedicated people, the sort of people you’d want to be making products for your children to use. You, Reader, would have enjoyed meeting them too.
  • Many members of Congress spoke. All were Republican, and a few were pretty good. For better or worse (maybe some of each) there was a minimum of partisanship, with scant mention of the reports that the Democratic House leadership had ordered members not to attend. Several lawmakers minimized the institutional role in the debacle of Congress (which passed the law last year almost unanimously), instead seeking to throw the blame onto the CPSC’s management, which put them surprisingly close to the position of Henry Waxman himself. One GOP member said it was important to be nice to the Democrats and not alienate them, since they held all the power. Not observing the nicetiesThis may have been good advice, but I was still a little surprised.
  • Amid a great deal of talk about unintended consequences, very little was said about there being actual adversaries out there, who know quite well what the law is doing and support it anyway. If more than a word or two was breathed about the roles of Public Citizen, PIRG, or the various members of Congress who are actively hostile on the issue (and not just “needing to be educated”), I missed it. Which meant (it seemed to me) that some of the good people who’d taken the trouble to come to Washington were going to be surprised and perhaps unprepared when they discovered figures out there like, oh, just to pick randomly, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, whose positions are not so much unreflected-on as deeply hostile (and with mysteriously unsourced numbers too).

Speaking of which, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Reports, confirmed once again that it falls into the “hostile” and not merely “unreflective/ uninformed” category with this deplorable hatchet job, which provoked a slew of angry, substantive comments; see also blog posts including those of Carol Baicker-McKee and Sheeshamunga.

More rally coverage: Domestic Diva, Polka Dot Patch.
Public domain image: Yankee Mother Goose (1902), illustrator Ella S. Brison, courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

CPSIA chronicles, March 30

  • We all know that politicians’ sententious pronouncements about the needs of the poor often ring hollow. But are our elected officials truly unaware of the role thrift shops play in the lives of those trying to raise families with no margin of financial safety? Valerie Jacobsen and Deputy Headmistress have both blogged movingly on the subject, and the latter is back today with a must-read post recalling the morning when her own family unexpectedly expanded through adoption overnight from three children to five:

    We had no clothes for them, no beds, no presents; nothing was in readiness for them, except our hearts (and even those needed some sprucing up). They came on a Friday. We went shopping on a Saturday. Where did we go shopping? Thrift shops, of course. We had an immediate and urgent need for clothing, toys, and bedding for two new children, and we lived on an enlisted man’s salary. It was only two weeks before Christmas. The thrift shop enabled us to fill the gap between our income and our needs.

    Now families that rely on thrift stores are in trouble from coast to coast: Salem and Marblehead, Mass. (“Throwing away perfectly good clothing”); Nantucket, Mass. (imagine being a landscaper or laundry person trying to raise a kid on that expensive island); Herkimer, N.Y. (“new motto, ‘When in doubt, throw it out'”); Beaver County, Pa.; Imperial, Neb.; Denver, Colo.; San Luis Obispo, Calif. (“I say, ‘Just try to pass the toys down through your family or give them to friends,’”); The Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii)(via CLC and CPSIA). Some background from NARTS (National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops), which is doing a CPSIA Impact Survey of its members.
    bostonbeansredridinghood2

  • The Wall Street Journal editorializes about the law again today, aiming its main attack at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who “won’t admit a mistake and fix the law“.
  • Quite the video on the minibike ban, with youth road racing champion Josh Serne, at AmendTheCPSIA.com. Amateur MX has photos from the Malcolm Smith rally. More powersports coverage: Rochester area, N.Y.; Albany/Hudson Valley, N.Y.; McHenry County, Ill.; Associated Press.
  • James Leroy Wilson at DownsizeDC: “What is Congress doing about it? Canceling hearings.” And Amy Ridenour, National Center: “Outrage of the Day: Waxman Drags Feet on Needed CPSIA Reform”.
  • “It’s on the books, and that’s the problem for libraries across North Texas,” reported Dallas’s CBS 11 earlier this month (via Rick Woldenberg). Per Fox Albany, the Albany Public Library and the library in suburban Guilderland each estimate that they would have to discard around 10,000 older children’s books if an exemption is not made available. Guilderland library director Barbara Nichols Randall says her institution on average weeds out about 1,600 books a year on average currently, which of course does not mean that they exclusively target the oldest books for weeding. Albany library director Timothy Burke foresees the results at his library as “10,000 fewer books for kids to use”.
  • velveteenrabbit

  • Carter Wood at ShopFloor thinks what’s happening with vintage books is reenacting the story of the Velveteen Rabbit:

    And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire, only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning he promised to come quite early and burn the whole lot.

  • Candy Corn Studios makes an important point: “Children have access to dozens of small items that were never intended for children.” If grandpa takes the kids out fishing, there’s no law (yet) forcing him to keep the lead sinkers in his tackle kit under lock and key. Meanwhile, purely notional risks that have never been linked to any real-world instances of poisoning are used as the excuse for turning real people’s lives compulsorily upside down.
  • Attorneys Michael B. Goldsmith and Jay L. Silverberg of Sills Cummis: “No legislation in recent memory has engendered more confusion and consternation than the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008… There continues to be tremendous disruption, confusion and concern in a variety of industries affected by the CPSIA.” Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a long-time non-favorite at this site, thinks the main problem with the law is that it’s not being enforced enthusiastically enough.
  • And don’t forget the rally in Washington Wednesday (buttons and banners, list of rally speakers, including many familiar from this space).