Children’s librarians are still waiting for resolution on how, specifically, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will affect them. 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. At the same time, it reiterated its belief that books printed before 1986 potentially could contain lead, leaving libraries to wonder for a bit longer about what they should do with their older holdings.
Although there has been no official guidance for libraries yet, the Commission has promised it would issue a separate ruling “soon.” Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington, D.C., office, says, “There is finally some recognition that a library is a different kind of entity than a store.”
The final lead rule did confirm that libraries are not required to put their older books through expensive testing. “Libraries are not required to test, and that’s a good thing,” Sheketoff stresses. “That’s probably the biggest impact for libraries.”
While a number of newspaper and blog articles have decried the fact that libraries reportedly have been disposing of older books because of the law, there is little evidence that this practice is widespread. The ALA has been encouraging librarians to maintain the status quo until the CPSC issues its guidance. If a library discovers a book that is unsafe for any reason, the ALA asks it to remove the title from its shelves and let the association know, so it can spread the word.
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.”
Barthelmess notes that budgets are tight and it would take years to fill the holes that could be filled, and that time and effort would pull librarians away from their patrons. “We want to make sure kids are safe, but also uphold our commitment to maintaining library collections and library services for children.”
In other CPSIA news, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Commerce Committee held a hearing on the Act on September 10, a move that had been requested by the many industry groups, such as the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Childrenswear and the Handmade Toy Alliance, and small businesses that are affected by and have been demanding changes to the CPSIA. However, children’s product manufacturers were disappointed that the only witness called was new CPSC Chair Inez Tenenbaum.
The Associated Press recently broke the news that the world’s biggest toymaker, Mattel, would be exempt from the CPSIA’s independent lead-testing provision; the CPSC will allow Mattel to use its company-owned labs rather than third-party facilities as required for other children’s product makers. The announcement was followed by online objections that it was Mattel’s involvement in some of the recalls that spurred the law in the first place.
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.
Stay tuned for CPSIA updates as they develop.