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CPSIA and libraries

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 has come at a steep price for the Northwest Denver Toy Library, which has had to throw out nearly 400 of the 500 toys in its stock because it has no way of being sure that they comply with the 2008 federal law. [9News.com Denver]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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).

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Turns out there is a trade association sounding the alarm (earlier)

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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.

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  • 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”.
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  • 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).

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CPSIA: one for the books

by Walter Olson on March 26, 2009

As Charles Henry and Carter Wood observe, Tuesday’s Washington Post article on the fate of vintage books is another sign that the CPSIA debacle is gradually edging into the attention zone of even the more highly placed members of the press. littlefly2Florida’s St. Petersburg Times also covered the book/library angle over the weekend, following earlier coverage by the Associated Press Mar. 17, and before that by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Guardian (U.K.), Cincinnati Enquirer and elsewhere. (Other aspects of the law, similarly, have won sporadic rather than sustained attention at individual large papers, and none have yet broken through to the print columns of The Deaf Lady and thereby reached those who rely on her for their news agenda.)

If nothing else, the Washington Post story should lay to rest the still sometimes heard notion that no one is talking about banning many of these books or that everyone somehow favors broadly exempting vintage books, with the only real question being how to get there. Reporter Michael Birnbaum interviewed Columbia public health specialist David Rosner, known as a high-profile lead hawk and critic of any toleration of nonzero exposure risks (and also a recurring expert witness for plaintiff’s lawyers in lead litigation, in which role he puts in a cameo in this fine 2007 Joe Nocera column in, of all places, the NYT). Rosner quite unmistakably does not want older books exempted as a general matter and does want government to intervene against those that have detectable, even if infinitesimal, levels of lead in their ink. He dismisses as ignorant — unacquainted with “the latest science” — parents and booksellers who object that they grew up with these books, they turned out okay, etc. (In fact, “latest science” or no, scientists have by no means joined in the consensus Rosner aims to suggest; hence the remarks from Centers for Disease Control spokesman Jay Dempsey the other day that “On a scale of one to 10, this is like a 0.5 level of concern“).

Birnbaum also interviews a second high-profile lead hawk, Johns Hopkins public health professor and longtime regulatory activist Ellen Silbergeld, who takes a somewhat contrasting view more akin to CDC’s (dismissing the book issue as “very clearly not a high priority” in protecting children). But that’s not all: Silbergeld appears to associate herself with (otherwise unnamed) critics who “accuse the safety commission of trying to undermine the law by stirring up popular backlash”, calling the agency’s continued inability to resolve the issue “absurd” and “disingenuous”. The suggestion here, it would seem, is that the CPSC is purposefully sabotaging the law by accommodating, even in part and inconsistently, the views of one of its own two commissioners, Thomas Moore, who famously called for some share of older books to be “sequestered” — not to mention outsiders like Rosner whose views appear to follow similar lines. So now we’re apparently meant to go on a hunt for imagined wreckers and saboteurs at the agency, presumably including its key career staff.

Meanwhile, and fortunately, discussion continues among persons who care passionately about old books for their own sake and don’t want to see them lost. Well-known author Neil Gaiman remarked on the story on Twitter (“So wrong, so wrong, so utterly, utterly wrong“) which was passed along (“retweeted”) by hundreds of his readers and fans; many blog posts and discussions resulted. David Niall Wilson (“Glimpses Into an Overactive Mind”) contributed two passionate posts (“This idiocy has to be stopped”.) twotailedcatThe popular James Lileks, whose eponymous site is one of the most consistently diverting in American journalism, did a short column for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and the subject erupted in comments at Boing Boing. Some other discussions, all worth reading: Tim & Zodi (via Deputy Headmistress), Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol (also Wessel & Lieberman), Jennifer at Series Books for Girls (“this lead thing has not gone away. Don’t think for a minute that it has”), Vivian Zabel, Le Mars, Iowa, Daily Sentinel, Aria Nadii/Wild Muse Notes.

And don’t forget the rally next Wednesday morning, April 1, in Washington, and covered by, among other places, Apparel News. Registration can be accomplished here. And Lahle Wolfe at About.com Women in Business Blog offers six (other) ways to protest the law.

Public domain images: Yankee Mother Goose (1902), illustrator Ella S. Brison, courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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An audio is now up of my guest appearance yesterday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. And Canadian blogger Charles Henry has generously compiled a transcript of the segment, an especially useful resource because he’s embedded relevant links. He’s also posted a transcript of another segment of the show in which attorney/guest Gary Wolensky talks about this week’s big library/CPSC outcry, as well as vacant toy shelves (“That’s A CPSIA Toy, We Can’t Sell It To You“).

It’s been a day of dramatic developments on the CPSIA-and-libraries front. An Associated Press article out yesterday quoted Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as officially urging the nation’s libraries to remove from their shelves children’s books printed before 1986 until more is known about their possible dangers from lead in their inks, dyes and pigments:

Until the testing is done, the nation’s more than 116,000 public and school libraries “should take steps to ensure that the children aren’t accessing those books,” Wolfson said. “Steps can be taken to put them in an area on hold until the Consumer Product Safety Commission can give further guidance.”

Within the day, however, commission chief of staff Joe Martyak said that Wolfson had “misspoke”, and that the commission has neither concluded that the books might be dangerous nor recommended that libraries take any action. An early version of the AP story is here, with the Wolfson quote, and a later version here, for purposes of comparison.

Chewed-up leaves

It’s not as if Wolfson was making things up here. As readers will recall, one of the two CPSC commissioners, Thomas Moore, called weeks ago for some undefinedly large share of old books to be “sequestered” from children for the time being. However, the full commission has left the issue up in the air rather than endorsing Moore’s view.

The AP also turns to Jay Dempsey, a health communications specialist at the Center for Disease Control, a federal agency that I suspect knows a great deal more than does the CPSC about the public health problem of children’s lead poisoning. Dempsey does not rate highly the danger that a child will ingest lead from books: “on a scale of one to 10, this is like a 0.5 level of concern.”

I’m also puzzled by the following quote in the AP piece:

Also, the lead [in some older books] is contained only in the type, not in the illustrations, according to Allan Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs for the Association of American Publishers.

That’s not what I’ve heard; I’ve heard more often of the illustrations flunking than of the type flunking when books are subjected to x-ray fluorescence tests.

The AP article, which is getting wide national pickup, also reveals that the American Library Association knows of only two libraries that have sequestered such volumes — we’ve reported on one — and that both ceased the practice at ALA’s urging. It also links to an overview of the (current) book manufacturing process and its CPSIA implications, prepared by manufacturers of children’s books. It does not discuss the issue of books with nonpaper elements published between 1985 and today, although this too could pose enormous compliance problems given libraries’ large holdings of such books.

News buffs may be interested to observe that the new Associated Press story is out of Jefferson City, Missouri — not Washington, D.C., not New York City — and that it carries the byline of Lee Logan, whose byline can also be found on the excellent (Missouri-focused) AP story about the CPSIA minibike ban a week and a half ago. The AP has been notable for snoozing through most of the national CPSIA story over the past three months, but it sounds as if it may have one reporter who understands its importance.

Incidentally, a number of vaguely well-meaning associations and nonprofits (as well as many of a sharper ideological tint) signed on to endorse the CPSIA in its rush to passage last year. Among the former group, as Deputy Headmistress points out, was the American Library Association itself — sort of like Colonel Sanders getting an endorsement from the chickens. I wonder whether anyone has asked the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Law Libraries, or Circumpolar Conservation Union whether anything about CPSIA’s implementation has caused them to rethink their support. I’m still trying to figure out what CPSIA has to do with law libraries or circumpolar conservation in the first place, except insofar as it causes more people to hire lawyers and want to run away to the North Pole.
P.S. In comments, Carol Baicker-McKee says she “spoke with Joe Martyak, the CPSC chief of staff, yesterday, and while he did not mention ‘sequestering’ books, he did tell me that there is considerable legal precedent for seeing libraries as ‘distributors in commerce’ so the agency definitely considers them to be subject to CPSIA.” More from Valerie Jacobsen: “[Unlike one librarian quoted in the story,] I don’t see many libraries with only a few pre-1985 children’s books. While library copies of picture books do tend to wear out early, chapter books for children ages 8-12 typically endure quite well.”
Public domain graphic: Edith Brown, ChildrensLibrary.org via Jessica Palmer.

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whenmonstrisbornCarol Baicker-McKee is stunned to find that line appearing as part of a slide presentation for staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on enforcement of CPSIA (for those just catching up, CPSC’s guidelines last month recommend that resellers discard pre-1985 kids’ books unless the books are put through expensive testing.) It has her “ready to move to Australia. Or, better yet, ready to make Congress move to Australia and let the country start fresh.” Read the whole thing. More: Esther at Reader’s Loft.

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Excellent article today on libraries, books and CPSIA in one of Texas’s leading newspapers, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. twolittleantsIt confirms, among other things, that the big Half Price Books chain has made a policy of pulling pre-1985 books from its shelves, as well as more recent books that contain various kinds of embellishments and special features. If you happen to know an editor with the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune or one of the other big media outlets that are still utterly ignoring the crisis, this makes a good clip to send them, just to let them know that 1) what’s going on is only too real; and 2) they’re being scooped repeatedly by other journalists, just as the Boston Globe scooped them last week on the resale story.

Also on the library issue, there is good coverage in the Zanesville, Ohio Times Reporter (a disproportionate amount of the good library coverage has come from the state of Ohio, which I suspect must be a tribute to some energetic library people there). The American Library Association has a wiki reiterating (at present) that association’s advice to members not to throw out pre-1985 books: “If you feel you must remove books from circulation, please store them until rulings are clearer!”. In her latest roundup, Deputy Headmistress describes how her own local library is boxing up many books that are likely to have been printed after 1985, because their copyright date falls before then; it is a common practice for children’s books to list only a copyright date even if they were printed many years later. So at that cautious library, at least, the law’s effects are even more drastic than one might have assumed.

Darwin Central, which took out after the offending Snopes.com on the books issue a couple of weeks ago, follows up today with a post entitled, “Snopes Defending the Book Burners”. poppyseedcakeLinda L. Richards at January Magazine was among those misled by the Snopes slant. In a wide-ranging CPSIA roundup last month (worth reading in its entirety), Punditry by the Pint had wise advice: “This might be one of the cases where it would be good to read up on Snopes’ False Authority Syndrome page.” A visit to the Snopes page in question indicates that it now carries a “Last Updated” date of February 19, which indicates that it has been changed since we last had occasion to discuss it; at a brief glance, some of the dismissive language I and others found so objectionable seems no longer to be there, though it has not been replaced by language that’s actually cogent or up-to-date. Someone might want to do a before-and-after comparison using the Wayback Machine.

Also on books, children’s book author and editor Carol Baicker-McKee has a lovely followup to her excellent post of a day earlier, describing some of the kinds of older children’s books (of uncertain copyright status, too “quiet” in their themes to attract reprint interest from publishers) that might face a bleak future. She admires silhouette art, a feature of many midcentury children’s books (like the 1941 Marcella Chute volume from which this illustration is taken) but which is uncommon today.
silhouette
Baicker-McKee has devoted more thought to the economics of children’s publishing than have most of us, and she writes beautifully of what is at risk. Ed Driscoll also has some to-the-point observations at Pajamas Media, where he quotes Mark Steyn: “A nation’s collective memory is the unseen seven-eighths of the iceberg. When you sever that, what’s left just bobs around on the surface, unmoored in every sense.”

There are other news stories I haven’t gotten to — in particular, the Wall Street Journal’s important reporting on $1 billion-plus (at least) in stranded inventories, much of which may be headed for landfills, and the news of the sudden 40% drop in the stock price of well-known kids’ retailer Gymboree as it was forced to take massive inventory write-offs. I’ll have to get to those at a later date, however, as an unrelated deadline is going to be absorbing much of my attention over the next few days.

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processionofthenursery

  • UPDATE 5:45 p.m. Eastern: Well, that was quick. A source reports that Congressional staffers hastily announced that they’re canceling the hearing next week and that the idea is “not likely to ever be brought back”. Someone must have realized that letting people from around the country get in front of a microphone and talk about the effects of this law would not exactly do wonders for the image of Henry Waxman, Public Citizen, PIRG, or Consumer Federation of America. More: Rick Woldenberg confirms cancellation/disinvitation.
  • A prime objective for critics of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in recent weeks has been to obtain a hearing on Capitol Hill that might focus lawmaker and press attention on the law’s many unexpected and harmful effects. Now it looks as if that might be happening. Rick Woldenberg:

    I have been invited to testify before the Subcommittee on Regulations and Healthcare of the House Committee on Small Business next Thursday. The purpose of this hearing is to explore Small Business issues related to the CPSIA. The Subcommittee is still looking for small businesses to testify. … If you are motivated to testify, you may want to reach out to the Subcommittee staff to volunteer, or if you have a Congressman on the Subcommittee, contact their Washington office urgently. …

  • Relatedly, Whimsical Walney, whose time seems to have been in part freed up for blogging by the CPSIA-induced shutdown of her Bay-Area-based children’s line, offers some advice here and here on how to talk with lawmakers about the act.
  • If you still haven’t taken a look at it, Daniel Kalder’s excellent BooksBlog entry in The Guardian (U.K.) on CPSIA and older books, which quotes from my City Journal article, is here. It’s drawn attention around the world, including places like France, Italy, and Romania.
  • oldtalesreading

  • Speaking of books, America’s libraries appear to have dodged catastrophe for now with the help of the American Library Association’s (understandable under the circs) last-minute embrace of the position that unless someone announces otherwise, it’s going to assume the law doesn’t apply to library stacks or circulation (earlier; commentary on the shift, Deputy Headmistress and Rick Woldenberg). Thus: Cincinnati Enquirer (“We’re hopeful saner heads will prevail and they’ll exempt us,” says Emily Sheketoff of the ALA), Middletown (Ohio) Journal, Brown County, Ohio, News-Democrat.


    So it seems to be mostly the librarians who are the most literal-minded and obedient about following guidance from high government authorities, or who are most legally risk-averse, or something, who are taking drastic steps like tarping over their pre-1985 stacks or planning to discard the volumes entirely or excluding older kids’ books from their used-book sales (in which case they’ll wind up….where?). Esther at Reading Loft/Design Loft has been picturing how libraries will look if they can’t make an exemption stick. And I didn’t notice it when it ran last month, but Annoyed Librarian had a funny rant at Library Journal about the law. Perish the thought, of course, that any library might ever want to acquire a pre-1985 book for kids’ use.
  • Popular conservative talk host Hugh Hewitt has continued his coverage of the law. Per one transcript, he discussed it with star columnist Mark Steyn who knew about the youth motorsports debacle:

    In my little corner of New Hampshire, every 12-year old boy loves taking an ATV, loves riding it around up in the hills. And the idea that the lead in it is going to cause that kid to keel over, is preposterous. This is government by insanity…

    On the other hand, Mark Riffey passes along word that popular talker Glenn Beck doesn’t plan to cover the issue because “there’s no public outcry” (a paraphrase second-hand of what might be a staffer’s view, or his, it’s not clear). What? Does he restrict his reading diet to the New York Times?

  • Wacky Hermit at Organic Baby Farm is angry: “When you have to consult a lawyer before you hold a church benefit sale, you are not in America.” (some rude language).
  • In the first-linked item above, Woldenberg also reports on an announcement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s chief of enforcement, Gib Mullan, that the commission intends to shift its enforcement methods in a more punitive direction, handing out many more penalties than previously in order to achieve more deterrent effects on businesses of all sizes. This is well in line with the clear guidance the commission has been given by Henry Waxman and colleagues in Congress. Next Thursday, if those planning the hearing do their jobs right, many in Congress might for the first time hear some voices that no one thought to consult when the law hurtled toward passage last summer. [REPEATING THE UPDATE: Hearing reportedly canceled.]

Public domain images: Grandma’s Graphics, Mabel Betsy Hill and Elson’s Basic Readers.

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CPSIA and print-on-demand

by Walter Olson on February 23, 2009

sisforstrawberry
Print-on-demand technology has many promising applications for children’s products: it can keep low-sales-volume children’s books from falling out of print, for example, and it can make available T-shirts, posters or school supplies customized with the name of a particular child or family or that of a particular teacher’s class. Unfortunately, in the absence of a green light for component testing, each tiny “run” of goods may need to be lab-tested separately at what will often be prohibitive expense. The CPSC’s enforcement stay as to new-item testing bought a year’s time for most product makers, and its narrow and hastily granted exemption for newly printed books (which, alas, did not extend to countless other printed products) may have saved that particular product category. zisforzinnia For many other users and potential users of the technology, however, the problem has merely been kicked forward to next year in the absence of any willingness by Congress to clarify or change the law. Some discussions: Will Benton; Adam Dewitz, Print CEO (via Book Journeys), WSJ forums (dilemma faced by Tennessee printer). More on book exemption: AAP request, PDF; Etsy thread.

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It’s happening at the Morton James Public Library in Nebraska City, Neb.:

A federal child product safety law has staff at the Morton James Public Library quarantining books behind bright orange plastic and wondering how many must be pulled forever from the shelves. …

Over 1,000 books with 1985 or older on the copyright page have already been quarantined behind an orange curtain.

Library Director Barbara Hegr said librarians will try to determine if the edition is a printing after the copyright date, so the book may be preserved.

Click through to the news story at the Nebraska City News-Press for more details, as well as a photo you may not soon forget. You can also Digg the story here.

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