Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unintended Consequences -- Will children be banned from libraries or books pulled from shelves

For the past week or so, I have been following the new controversy over the testing of lead for products aimed at children.

There was a post on the ALA Washington Office blog, District Dispatch, about the Consumer Product Safety Commission's proposed enforcement of a new law. That post states:
Within the last few days, ALA and others in the “book” community (other librarians, publishers, teachers, booksellers, etc.) became extremely concerned after seeing that the CPSC intended to include books in the definition of “products to children” that would need to be certified as safe. This concern was heightened by a letter from the General Counsel of the CPSC – a letter that states that books are not exempt from the law.
The end of the posting says:

Several key Hill offices have contacted the CPSC Commissioners and the General Counsel. We believe that the misunderstanding may be cleared up, so the Commission can focus on children’s items that are truly dangerous.

If we can’t get this resolved, we will need everyone who wants children to continue to have access to safe children’s books to contact the Commission and Capitol Hill – but, for now, we can stand by until we hear more from our Congressional supporters.

I've been catching up on my blog reading, and found an article from Library Link of the Day to a provocatively titled piece in the Boston Phoenix "Congress Bans Kids from Libraries?" Here are a couple of key paragraphs from that story which summarize the situation, starting with the lead paragraph:
Is it possible that Congress has just inadvertently turned millions of children’s books into contraband? At the moment, anything seems possible with regard to the sprawling, 62-page Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed this past August with overwhelming margins in both the House (424-1) and the Senate (89-3).

Historically, books have been considered more dangerous to read than to eat. Regardless, a memo from the CPSC, issued the day before Christmas Eve, explicitly quashed any hope that books might escape the new law. To make matters worse, even publishers that have already had their products tested for lead will be forced to retest. In the same memo, existing test results based on “soluble lead” — a measure of whether lead will migrate out of a product — were rejected by the CPSC because they did not measure “total lead content.”

The CPSC has not issued any ruling on whether libraries, schools, and other institutions that loan — rather than sell — books will be subject to the law. Without such clear guidance, says Adler [Allan Adler, the American Association of Publishers’ vice president for legal and governmental affairs], schools and libraries should assume they have to comply.

I fully support making sure that our children are safe by getting rid of the possibility of ingesting lead. (I completely stripped the woodwork in a house, taking off all the lead paint), and repainted with lead free paint. However, books are not a source of lead!

This is yet another example of the "Law of Unintended Consequences!"

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