Posts Tagged ‘CPSIA and libraries’

CPSIA: one for the books

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 Women in Business Blog offers six (other) ways to protest the law.

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

CPSIA: transcripts, audio of Hugh Hewitt show

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“).

CPSC: No, we didn’t ask libraries to pull pre-1985 books

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, via Jessica Palmer.

CPSIA: “Children’s books have limited useful life (approx 20 years)”

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.

CPSIA: “What’s so sad is that books aren’t dangerous”

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 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.
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.

CPSIA chronicles, February 26


  • 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.

CPSIA and print-on-demand

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.

CPSIA: Library books under an orange tarp

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.

CPSIA chronicles, February 19


New York Times on CPSIA: “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”

Clueless. Disgraceful. Grossly ill-informed. And cruelly hard-hearted toward families and businesses across the country that are facing economic ruin.

Yes, after months of silence, the editorialists of the New York Times have finally weighed in with their view of how CPSIA is going. How bad did you expect their editorial to be? It’s that bad, and worse.


In a six-paragraph editorial about toy safety, exactly one paragraph is spent informing readers that anything about the law might have aroused any public criticism. And here is that paragraph:

Unfortunately, the commission has yet to implement important aspects of the new law. The delay has caused confusion and allowed opponents to foment needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises like libraries, resale shops and handmade toy businesses.

Got that? “Confusion” about the law, and “delay” in implementing it, are the real problems. Fears that small business will be hurt are “needless” and are being “fomented” by presumably sinister opponents.

Or, put differently: anyone who imagines this law might be impractical for libraries, resale shops, handmade toy businesses, or other small businesses is just imagining things — fooled, perhaps, by misinformation spread by the law’s opponents.

Libraries are just imagining things if they listen to people like Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association, who spoke to the press last month about the choices facing libraries if some sort of exemption could not be found. (“Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she said, “or they ban children from the library.”) Or people like Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, who spoke to Publisher’s Weekly about the prospective effects of the law: “This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable. …It has to be stopped.” It’s true that the CPSC’s last-minute stay of enforcement did save the new-children’s-book trade from calamity — but remember, to the Times, “delay” has been one of the problems in implementing the law, not something that has (so far) spared us its worst effects.


Thrift stores are just imagining things if they listen to people like Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, who said, “The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill.” They should ignore all the reports, no matter how numerous and from how many sources, of local Goodwill operations and other thrift stores’ closing children’s departments or sweeping more than half their contents off the shelves, and of kids’ resellers and consignment shops taking massive financial hits or closing down entirely. All of these episodes are either imaginary or, if conceded as real, an instance of overreaction to the needless fears those moustache-twirling opponents have “fomented”. (Some more thrift-store coverage not previously linked: North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota with Goodwill pic, upstate New York (“We can’t be sure of the risk unless we take everything off the shelf”), South Dakota, Colorado). They should also stop predicting that the pursuit of their charitable missions will suffer a major blow from the loss of children’s resale revenue, because that sort of thing just undermines morale.


Handmade toy businesses are just imagining things if they listen to anyone like the Handmade Toy Alliance. It’s not as if anyone like them is on its list of members.

The Times editorialists warn against “needless fears” that the law “could injure” smaller enterprises. Got that? Not only will they not be driven out of business, they won’t even be “injured”. So small enterprises from coast to coast are just imagining things if they plead desperately for places like the Times to notice that they have already closed down, or will have to do so in the foreseeable future, or have lost thousands of dollars in unsalable inventories. Motorbike dealerships around the country are just imagining things if they think they’re staring at massive losses from the inability to sell their products, even though news-side talent at the New York Times has in fact covered their story well — coverage which the editorial studiously ignores.

For as long as anyone can remember, the New York Times has unthinkingly taken its line on supposed consumer-safety issues from organized groups like Public Citizen and Consumers Union. In this case, the result of such reliance has been to render the nation’s leading newspaper a laughingstock.
Public domain image: Grandma’s Graphics, Ruth Mary Hallock.

(& welcome Virginia Postrel, Christopher Fountain, Patrick @ Popehat, Carter Wood/ShopFloor, Mike Cernovich, Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason “Hit and Run”, Jonathan Adler @ Volokh Conspiracy, Memeorandum, Above the Law, Tim Sandefur, Mark Thompson/Donklephant, Alison Morris/Publisher’s Weekly Shelftalker blog, Jacob Grier, Amy Alkon/Advice Goddess, Joe Weisenthal/ClusterStock, Valerie Jacobsen/Bookroom Blog readers. And: Deputy Headmistress at Common Room, Faith in Truth, Amy Ridenour/National Center and NewsBusters, Charles Kuffler/Off the Kuff.)

And more: liked this piece and has now reprinted it in slightly altered form. And I’m particularly grateful to Robert Ambrogi/Legal Blog Watch for his generous coverage.