Sunday, April 19, 2009

Insidious Round About Book Banning


On March 21, I posted about an item I saw in the news about the removal of books printed before the 1980s. The reason given was fear of lead posioning in the ink. Here's what I posted:
Disturbing was this national item on book removal, due to lead content in printer's ink. The item in the Register Guard is titled "Is lead in ink dangerous in children's books? Maybe" but the MSNBC gives us this:(since it's national, the local paper on-line doesn't have an electronic version available) "Group wants vintage kids books off the shelves:Consumer Product Safety Commission worries tomes may contain lead" It's disturbing not because of lead in ink, but for the portent of book banning, suppression, censorship, fascism, -- just a hint of lead-in to things to come.

The story comes from Jefferson City, Mo, and asks if vintage editions could be a problem, due to lead content in ink:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has raised that possibility in urging the nation’s libraries to take children’s books printed before 1986 off their shelves while the federal agency investigates whether the ink contains unsafe levels of lead.

Are we going to see books printed before 1986 outlawed, considered a health or environmental hazard? According to the article, a couple of libraries reacted with a strange sense of enthusiasm:
One roped off the children’s section; the other covered children’s books with a tarp. Both libraries, which she declined to identify, stopped after being contacted by the association, she said.

It appears this move to rid shelves of books has been quietly afoot since then, or so I thought, since the item appeared in this morning's (April 19) local paper. When I looked the article up on-line, I noticed the date of the article: March 24th.
Legislation passed by Congress last August in response to fears of lead-tainted toys imported from China went into effect last month

Which means, this was passed in February.

Why reprint an item from three weeks ago about this? Signs of things to come? Lead ban knocks used kids' books off shelves. Note the lead-in, where the setting is in Arlington, Va:
Rachel Merrill, mother of three, was holding innocuous-seeming contraband in her hand at an Arlington Goodwill store earlier this month: a 1971 edition of "Little House on the Prairie." This copy of the children's classic had just become illegal to resell because of concerns that some old books contain lead in their ink.

Experts say the lead in ink isn't enough to cause concern:
Lead was phased out of printer's ink following the 1978 paint ban; lacking a firm date for when it effectively disappeared, the safety commission has ruled that the toxic metal might be found in any book printed before 1985.

So the arbitrary date of 1985 was chosen.

Where does this leave libraries, booksellers and schools? Staff complain of "contradictory" information, even while being told "not to circulate" old books. Confusion reigns, Goodwills are removing books from their shelves, and fear is in place. And here's an understatement concerning this disturbing circus from Joe Martyak,spokesperson for the commission:
Whether you consider that common sense or not, that's the way the law is written."
Fear mongering at its best, along with agitating submerged xenophobic fears (China) and generally putting the thought out there about censorship.

Okay, what is going on? Here's an article from March 18, just a month ago: CPSC: No, we didn’t ask libraries to pull pre-1985 books where Scott Wolfson, spokesperson with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, "officially urged" libraries, etc. to remove books. Joe Martyak, another spokesperson and chief of staff to the commission, said Wolfson "misspoke:"
that the commission has neither concluded that the books might be dangerous nor recommended that libraries take any action.

This is a good article, in terms of who's saying what, the sources, and the AP's apathetic response to this news of book removal -- of book destruction.

Here's something from January of 2009: Lead May Close on Library Children's Rooms in Md.

In trying to find out just what is the law, I found this item from February 10th: CPSIA and vintage books from the "Overlawyered" website. This from a vintage bookseller. Chilling.
Last year we shipped over 4500 used books to nearly 50 countries. (Note that CPSIA not only regulates distribution and sale but export as well.)

Our bookstore is the sole means of income for our family, and we currently have over 7000 books catalogued. In our children’s department, 35% of our picture books and 65% of our chapter books were printed before 1985.

Many of our older children’s books have painted decorative titles and other cover embellishment, which decoration is an extremely small quantity and which may or may not contain over 600 ppm lead. (The limits for each accessible part or paint layer are going to 300 ppm in August and 100 ppm in 2011.)

We have read the legislation, called our representative, called our senator, contacted the CPSC (no answer), read all of the CPSC press releases, and contacted a lawyer. We still honestly have no idea what is legal to sell, but we cannot simply discard a wealth of our culture’s nineteenth and twentieth children’s literature over this.


Supposedly, if the books are for adult collector's of children's books you're not doing anything illegal. Kind of.

I found the Series Books for Girls blog that discusses this and it's up to date: CPSIA The Lead Law Update #5where we read about the sad state of vintage books, booksellers, and so on:
Walter Olson also reported how one library is "boxing up many books that are likely to have been printed after 1985, because their copyright date falls before then; it is a common practice for children’s books to list only a copyright date even if they were printed many years later. So at that cautious library, at least, the law’s effects are even more drastic than one might have assumed."

This means that under some people's interpretation of the law, even recent books may become unavailable. I have read reports of stranded inventory that companies cannot distribute. The stranded inventory will likely be destroyed. Our economy is in terrible shape, and we have this idiotic law that is forcing many small companies out of business. This law will further weaken our economy. Rewriting this law should be a dire emergency for Congress, but they do not care.


The more this issue is explored, the scarier, and sadder, it becomes. It seems to be extremely under reported.

1 comment:

  1. This is rather unnerving. It could potentially stretch beyond children's books as well, seeing as any book published before 1985 could potentially contain "dangerous" amounts of lead and possibly be sold to children.

    And I must say, as long as people have been making children's books, young children (toddlers in particular) have probably been tearing apart and chewing on or eating portions of said books. So if there was any dangerous amounts of lead in the book ink, I'm pretty sure cases of lead poisoning from books would have happened and been addressed a long time ago.

    Like you said, there is more to this issue and I certainly hope it doesn't stretch farther then children's books. As a book lover, I'd hate to see my precious used bookstores vanish (my favorite places to buy books).

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