February 19, 2009

Children's books published before 1985 banned and burned

Are we really on the verge of losing millions of books published before 1985? 

Walter Olson on The New Book Banning

It’s hard to believe, but true: under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute. Merchants, thrift stores, and booksellers may be at risk if they sell older volumes, or even give them away, without first subjecting them to testing—at prohibitive expense. Many used-book sellers, consignment stores, Goodwill outlets, and the like have accordingly begun to refuse new donations of pre-1985 volumes, yank existing ones off their shelves, and in some cases discard them en masse.

The problem is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), passed by Congress last summer after the panic over lead paint on toys from China. Among its other provisions, CPSIA imposed tough new limits on lead in any products intended for use by children aged 12 or under, and made those limits retroactive: that is, goods manufactured before the law passed cannot be sold on the used market (even in garage sales or on eBay) if they don’t conform.

Why is Congress doing nothing about this?

The American Library Association spent months warning about the law’s implications, but its concerns fell on deaf ears in Congress (which, in this week’s stimulus bill, refused to consider an amendment by Republican senator Jim DeMint to reform CPSIA)

The cost for a library to comply is prohibitive. One librarian estimated that 75% of the books in her children's library are pre 1985.  The cost of testing each  of them would be more that the entire city budget.

Ace asks Who needs free books or cheap clothes in this economy anyway, right? Or retail jobs, or charity?

Walter Olson at Overlawyered quotes the associate executive director of the American Library Association, ”Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she said, “or they ban children from the library.”   

As well as the president and publisher of Random House Children's Books, Chip , “This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable. …It has to be stopped.”

Ace again sums it up.

So, to recap: Henry Waxman and his accomplices (including, we should note, many Republicans,) have managed to pass a bill which, inter alia,

1) requires the destruction or other removal of huge supplies of secondhand clothes, in winter,
2) may or may not preclude libraries from lending huge chunks of their childrens’ collections,
3) effectively removes as-yet-uncalculated amounts of inventory from salability from small- and medium-size businesses, without compensation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at February 19, 2009 9:05 AM | Permalink