27 February, 2009

The Big 21st Century Children's Book Banning: CPSC Rulings on Lead in Childrens' Books ~ Perspective of One Book Restorer and Conservator

I love (but do not idolize) old books. I have just a few of my Grandfather's old schoolbooks. They would be banned now...

I enjoy restoring and preserving old and vintage books. It is a fascinating thing to work with paper materials, cloth materials, adhesives, needle and thread, leather. It is fascinating to see how different books and papers respond to various treatments in the process of restoring them and preserving them for future generations. That is why I studied book restoration for years.

Hubby is an American Lit. Teacher and a Master of English.

We have always loved the more rare and obscure titles of vintage books, but enjoy classics from Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, also classics from British History and Literature, as well. We have always homeschooled. Many and many homeschoolers use vintage books (or even not-so-vintage-books printed pre-1985).

I have my own personal collection of Nature books, Americana, history and biographies, for both adults and children. I also have a lot of very old Charles Dickens novels, and enjoy multiple other British authors, as well. I have a decent collection of old Geography books...you can not read more interesting travel and geography books than were written a hundred years ago.

Have you ever read the Opal Wheeler books for children about famous Composers? They are simply lovely; so beautifully written. They are not dumbed-down into bits of boring facts, but are narrative in nature. The same is true for some of the editions of Children's Plutarch or Children's Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, just to name but a few examples. Who writes for children in that way anymore? I know that some of these titles are available in newer or in cheaply done, softcover editions, but I love the stamped, embossed, covers, the wonderful illustrations; the craftsmanship of the cloth-on-board, older editions. They should be kept available, preserved, to be enjoyed by future generation, as I am able to enjoy my Grandad's school books. Craftsmanship sadly and largely went out the window long ago, but there is still a band of booklovers and bookbinders who appreciate and value such work, who learn to work within, handle carefully, and preserve that work.

It is from the above perspectives that I share this post today.

I have literally been dumbfounded by the crazy details and the far-reaching implications of the August 2008 CPSC (US Consumer Products Safety Council) ruling:

Guidance on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) for Small Businesses, Resellers, Crafters and Charities

This act was well-intended, and I am all for protecting children from dangerous levels of lead and phthalates. But this one act over-reaches this mark to such a detrimental point.

Since the Act was instated on February 10th, all products...each and every item intended for children 12 and under must be tested for lead and phthalates (not some simple, inexpensive pen blot test from what I've read) or be tossed out. And yes, this includes children's books. Frustration and outcry from the American Library Association and others finally led to the CPSC amending the original banning of all children's books en masse, narrowing it down just to children's books published before 1985. Oh. WOW. THAT's a relief, isn't it?

Not in the least!!

Many good websites have broken down and chronicled the journey of this act, and subsequent reactions (and lack of reactions) with very good details, and I will share a few of them later in this post, so that I don't misrepresent something, or become redundant.

But first, allow me a brief rant (an activity I do not often indulge).

This act was passed by the Democratic-led Congress and signed by then President Bush last August and went into effect on Feb. 10th of this year. I'm not the only one who is confused or overwhelmed because so much information and even some misinformation has been floating all over the internet for the past few months, but almost NOTHING has been covered in the news. So regular Joe and Ann American do not know about it, much less care. Hugh Hewitt finally brought it up on his radio show this past Monday, and I was cheering from the driver's seat of my van as I was driving to tutor a student in Spanish.

Glen Beck is said to have shrugged off the need to mention anything about this, because he (alledgedly) said that there is not enough public outcry to justify it. (Grrrrrrr)

Can I mention the timing...the timing is also horrendous, when many families are tending more and more to need to shop at Goodwill and thrift stores in order to clothe their families. Our family has benefited from such practices for decades, (many things still have new price tags on them) what with living on Hubby's income as a teacher and afterschool director. (My minimal contributions over the decades has been just enough to keep an emergency fund from time to time).

More Americans are seeing the need to live within their dwindling means, and thrift shopping and antiquing is one way to accomplish that. The reach of recent legislation and implementation is so broad and so patently bad, it is already putting some small businesses out of business, or forcing them to become expats overseas.

I have been silent on the matter of the now-banning of books (intended for children) printed pre-1985, simply because I was literally knocked almost speechless, and I had such hopes that the American Library Association and other interested groups would be able to plead for some sense to come back into Congress's heads...perhpas that they would be able to reason with the politicians and the powers-that-be the ridiculousness of their actions.

*I forgot to include this last night: Nebraska City Library quarantines their collection of children's books this very week. Here is another link from a librarian showing a couple of photos from her local library, where she has marked out the books that she knows this ban includes. Just in case you don't believe the scope of this Act.

Many Americans don't even know it happened, what all the bans include, and it simply overwhelms me to the point of disbelief that it all really went into effect. It is difficult to put it all down in words

1) I am coming out of the shock, denial, and disbelief that it would mean the banning of wonderful books from my own childhood, but of my parents, grandparents, and so-on, and so-on....childhoods; some beautiful books, both in their artistic display of covers (though some bindings and papers were made on acidic materials, papers with high iron contents, or were printed in the wrong grain direction), the words and stories themselves will be lost. Some have sneered, "Well, no one reads those old books anyway."

If this would be protested well, and be publicized well, then maybe a poll could be taken to prove that there are whole groups passionate about the preservation of old books for the sake of history, heritage, for their unequaled quality of writing and content that they contain, not to mention a whole different set of standards which were celebrated 'once upon a time.'

Now I am fuming and beyond disappointed in our politicians: the Democratic-majority congress and my former Conservative and Republican representatives and President. (I am an independent now) I am so upset by their knee-jerk overreactions to the lead-laden charms, toys, and other cheap junk imported into our country that made all the news last year.

Libraries have "sort of" been given a one-year reprieve. People at thrift stores are already throwing away good, useful books. Some are probably worthless, but many...so many that have gone out of print never to be published again...what will become of these?

Why can't people just hold their horses? Do nothing for a time. Take the books off the shelves but don't toss them into the proverbial incinerator just yet, please!!

My frustrations ~

1) Our former President and Congress voted on this sweeping, overgeneralized legislation without even reading it and digging into what it would require for businesses and people that it likely never thought it would effect. Note this quote from Federalist Paper #62 ~

"It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule which is little known, and less fixed?" (Hat tip: The Amused Cynic)

2) I was already teetering near the edge in my passion and disgust for politicians and what they end up becoming in the machine of The Beltway. I *so* know and believe that God is ultimately in control, and I trust Him and have almost given up on trying to "make a difference" on a grand scale.

3) I therefore prayed that the American Library Association, and other lobbying blocks would be able to sway the aforementioned politicians to see *reason* before the Feb. deadline rolled around.

Ha. Ha.

Look, I am all for getting rid of unnecessary and dangerous chemicals in plastics (Phthalates) and the high amount of lead in charms, jewels, toys that are predominantly come from imports from the far east. Why could not the testing requirements be on those highly known offenders and products? Oh, yeah, because the powers-that-be are always quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater in order to save us from ourselves.

For much more detail about all of this confusing mess, read Val's blog. I've bought many children's books and book sets from her over the decades. Check out Walter Olson's writing at Overlawyered...he keeps posting updates and thorough, and some downright angering/disappointing reports from the Folks in Denial at the New York Times . Also read the interesting effects to the ATV industry. Check out a touching personal story by lawyer Mark Bennett. Then read the incredible in-depth insights by fellow homeschooler, the brilliant Deputy Headmistress in her multiple and ongoing posts at The Common Room. I've bought children's books from her family, as well, and read or own many of the books she has recommended to so many people over the years. She writes further about one of the links I shared (via FaceBook) a couple weeks back about Senator Jim DeMint's efforts to reform this mess ~

"Senator Jim DeMint has a reform bill in Committee right now. That link is to an article he wrote about it, this link is to a site where you can read the test of S. 374, his reform bill. There is also a version in the House, here is where you can read the actual bill. Unfortunately, it's in the same Committee that gave us this bill in the first place. She goes on to list the members who have been selected to serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 111th Congress. Please contact them and ask them to support HR 968, and specifically to exempt books, all books, not just those published after 1985, and thrift shops from all but the recall portions of the bill ."

I see that she has linked to Overlawyered, as well. The news update there is not good on a just- cancelled Congressional meeting where small business owners were supposed to get a chance to share the consequences of the CPSIA on their businesses. I guess they can't handle the truth, and they don't want the truth getting out, because they might lose face.

If you are beginning to see where this is leading us--to a nationwide book ban...heck, the ban has already happened, people...it is just not being reported in the media--then DO something to try and help get this thing repealed. If you are already doing something, I will join you in the protest. I could write about the protest that Etsy is brewing up...but I'll simply link to it for now.

C'mon, friends! This is not a partisan issue. Let's keep hounding Congress and the CPSC (available through the links above). Let's make calls to some think-tank lawyers who see the dangers of losing whole chunks of history, artisanship, art, you-name-it.

Project Gutenberg, Bartleby and other e-text projects are able to digitize or print up some of the OOP books, but many will be lost because they are so obscure, but none-the-less important accounts of biographical and historical nature.

Let's get this grassroots effort growing!

Exhausted Javamom


Katie said...

Great post! I linked on FB for my family's sake.

Birdie said...

Thank you for sharing this. I have really enjoyed reading your perspective on the subject of CPSIA.

Esther said...

Excellent post! I just found your blog and I look forward to reading more!

Heather said...

Excellent article! Bravo!

I own a bookstore that caters to homeschooling families building home libraries. My delights are ex-library books published and printed in the 1950s and '60s, esp. the children's historical fiction. Oh, there is SO much to be lost. :-(

A friend and I wrote a Dr. Seuss style story about the CPSIA. I don't know if you've seen it so I'll put the link here:


God bless you!!

DJ said...

Thank you so much for your concern and voice about this. I'm a wife, mom, home educator, citizen who is greatly concerned that my representatives are no longer truly representing me. My two daughters and I have been building our home library for 18+ years.

I have a post on my personal blog about Winnie-the-Pooh never having his books declared illegal or taken away which also includes a meme for sharing pictures of pre-1985 children's books that are now illegal to sell:


Again, thank you!

Sebastian said...

One reason why Project Gutenburg isn't a solution is that they deal with out of copyright books. But there is a fifty year swath of literature between the edge of copyright and 1985. Maybe we'll end up hiding copies in attics and on backroom shelves to protect them (I keep having visions of the Cultural Revolution run through my mind).