Monday, February 16, 2009

The banning of Childhood. The burning of books.

OK, maybe banning of childhood is a bit of an overstatement. Instead what Congress has done is ban everything associated with childhood not made by large companies which specialize almost exclusively in children's products. Small companies, start-up companies, and large companies which have children's products as a side line have been pushed out of the market by act of Congress. Small companies, by the way include that nice old man at the farmer's market who makes wooden toys and that lady on the internet who makes those darling little girl dresses by hand. Why have all of these businesses been banned? To protect the children of course.

You may remember last year's scare about lead in paint used in some toys made in China. You may also remember that Congress responded with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which banned lead and phthalates in any product intended for use by children under the age of 12. Every component of every product must be tested for lead by independent testing agencies. (There is not, by the way, a large scale testing industry in existence, as there was no demand. Congress assumed that an industry that did not exist could be created within a few months) Every variation must be tested separately and every lot must be tested. So the old man making toys must test each component of the toy. If he comes up with a new design, all of the components must be tested, even if they were tested before for previous designs. Same thing for the lady making little girl dresses. (Different sizes count as different designs, by the way.) It is obvious that only the largest companies are going to be able to afford the testing required by these laws. Not only will the small craftsmen be put out of business, but also the many small companies. The type of specialty toy maker that does a few hundred thousand dollars in sales every year and employs a handful of people, you know, the makers of all of the really cool toys, is history. Companies that primarily make goods for adults will likely avoid the added costs by dropping their children's lines.

One might think, that at least I will be able to get some of these things through the used market, but no, Congress banned that as well. CPSIA applies to all goods made for children regardless of when they were made. This means that the resale market will have to remove or test all items made for children. The stores, of course, will remove them. So in a time of economic hardship, Congress has just made it impossible for parents to save on children's clothing costs by going to Goodwill. I know from experience that it is possible to keep a child in clothes that were initially quite expensive for less than Wal-Mart prices. Children outgrow clothing before they wear them out. They often outgrow them before they appear to have been worn at all. Good-bye to all of that.

One of the real tragedies is that this travesty of a law applies to everything sold for children, including books. The Consume Products Protection Agency has graciously exempted used books which were printed after 1985 from the testing requirements. The books must be of normal bindings and have no lead components. Prior to 1985 lead was used in some of the inks used in children's books. (That is, by the way, why the colors in the illustrations of old books are often so rich.) Of course for the ink to damage a child, the child must eat the book. Vintage books are excepted if by age or price it is likely that purchasers are going to be adult collectors rather than children. Some businesses will try this dodge to continue old children's books, but let's be real, a third printing of a kid's book from 1967 is just not collectible. What this means is that most out of print children's books are now illegal to sell. If you want older editions for you kids, tough luck. You can no longer search for that book with the pretty illustrations you loved as a child. If you are lucky, a new reprint might be available, but only if the book is famous, or won a major award like the Newbery or Caldecott. Even then it might only be available in paperback. There are some truly great books out there that have never been reprinted and this heritage will be lost forever.

Ah, but what about libraries, you ask. Surely libraries will preserve this heritage. First, most library books do not have a lifespan of more than twenty years. The books fall apart from being handled so much. Second, the law applies to libraries. Libraries can not loan out books printed prior to 1985 without having them tested. The testing required is wet testing. Wet and books do not mix. Old books can not be tested without destroying them. Besides, we already know that many of them will fail. An even more serious problem is that it is next to impossible for a library to tell when a book was printed. Printing date is not one of the pieces of bibliographic information that libraries routinely include in their records. Copyright date, and edition number, yes, printing date, no. In fact it is often impossible, even by examining the book itself, to determine the printing date. The only safe route would be to sequester all books with a pre-1985 copyright date until it can be determined when the book was printed. Of course books aren't shelved in order of copyright, so every book in the children's section would have to examined or moved. Most libraries do not have the manpower to do this. It will costs libraries millions of dollars to sort and replace books. This is money that does not exist.

This is not speculation. The law took effect on February 10. There have been reports of used bookstores pulling all pre-1985 children's books. Bookstores can not afford to store books they are not selling. These books are being discarded. The book burning has begun. For the children.


Mike Looney said...

If I may go off on one of my tangents...

What is the major effect of lead on children? Brain damage that shows up later in life.

What group of people, in total numbers, was effected by lead in their environment while growing up? Baby Boomers.

Who makes up the majority of Congress Critters?

Again, with the Baby Boomers.

I leave the obvious point here to the reader. Both of you.

Dale said...

As the other reader...I resent the fact you are calling congress brain damaged. That is an insult to all people who have suffered from real brain damage. What did they do for you to be so cruel as to compare them to congress?

Mike Looney said...

Dude. Read my other blog.

Dale said...

Which Dude? Which other blog?

Mike Looney said...

You, "Dale". This blog

I've got brain damage.