|Illustration by Arthur Rackham for Wagner, Richard (translated by Margaret Amour) (1911). Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. London: William Heinemann, New York: Doubleday. Public domain image obtained through Wikimedia Commons via Haukurth|
They sometimes emerge from these battles a bit singed or bloodied, but emerge they do.
Then a few years ago, another threat quietly crept into the children's book world and threatened catastrophe, especially for libraries and fans of vintage books. In 2008, in the wake of recalls of popular toys (made in China) for high lead levels, Congress nearly unanimously passed a law intended to protect children: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This law, among other things, required that ALL children's products aimed at kids 12 and under be tested and certified to be (basically) lead-free. Lead is a known neurotoxin and children are especially vulnerable.
Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, the devil is in the details, and unfortunately the law failed (among other flaws) to exempt zillions of products that pose no significant threat to children. Like books. Which have NEVER been implicated in a single case of lead poisoning.
Not only did the law require expensive testing of each of the components of new books (which would have driven up the cost with no increased benefit to kids), it was retroactive, requiring testing and certification of previously published books. Here's why this was terrible for libraries and used books:
- Testing is terrifically expensive (and hard to obtain) and libraries and used sellers were required to test every children's book in their collections or for sale.
- The mandated testing is destructive testing - which means after submitting a book for testing, the library or bookstore would no longer have the book to circulate or sell.
Fearing lawsuits, some libraries and many used sellers did remove older books from their shelves. But the reason your local library may not have a nearly empty children's department is that the CPSC has issued a variety of stays of enforcement and temporary exemptions (plus there are bunch of feisty and renegade librarians out there) - but all these stays and exemptions were set to expire at the end of this year. And every attempt to amend the law or repeal it has failed.
Until this week!
Here's the start of the announcement of the amended law in Publisher's Weekly (written by Karen Raugust who has done a terrific job of covering CPSIA book developments for PW):