January 27, 2009

ALA and the CPSIA pt. 2

Yesterday I watched the public meetings between the apparel and publishing industries and the CPSC. There was a striking difference in the two meetings that illustrates why ALA may not get the exemption they seek, at least not right away. The ALA has been telling its membership to "wait and see" and to "do nothing" a position that is actually hurting the cause.

The apparel industry meeting presenters were well prepared with reams of data. They had hard data and numbers to prove that there is very little to no lead in textiles. The apparel industry has been regulated as far back as 1954 with the Fabric Flammability Act. Since 1972 children's apparel has been regulated with sleepwear standards. Culturally, the industry has a culture of testing and standards that exceeded these expectations. I know this because of the private label work I have done for the Big Box retailers. They take the liability of representing product to the consumer very seriously. For the most part, the CPSC staff and presenters appeared to work together well.

The publishing industry, to be fair, has their own set of testing standards. Even though they have not been regulated, they have taken on the responsibility to do their own form of testing and standards development. But they have never had to actually defend their products as safe until now. They have rarely had to even talk to the CPSC, which only testifies to the safety of their products. Still, their presenters did not really have the hard data on hand that the CPSC wanted. Industry experts testified to the safety of their industry and practices, but they did not have the mountain of data that the apparel industry had. The publishing industry tested a mere 150 books to CPSIA standards since November. From the CPSC's perspective, this was a step in the right direction, but still insufficient. In comparison, the apparel industry has tested thousands of products over decades.

To be fair the publishing industry was caught off guard by the CPSIA. They weren't prepared to deal with it and never thought they would have to. This cultural divide makes me believe that an exemption is not likely to happen anytime soon. If an "exemption" comes down next week, it will likely be in the form of the Resellers "exemption". It will probably say the same things of not requiring testing but still being held criminally liable. A position that protects the CPSC and is in keeping with the intent of the CPSIA. Such a position is not an exemption, since the CPSC can't act without a full quorum, it will merely be a press release without meat. Honestly though, it will be hard to say what will happen. There was certainly an adversarial tone in the publishers meeting, so I can see the CPSC dragging its feet.

And this brings me to the ALA. The ALA has been relying heavily on their lobbyists and lawyers in DC to bring about their exemption by next week. I am not sure what makes them think they will get anymore substantive exemption then the resellers or by a certain date. By telling their membership to "do nothing" and to "wait and see" they are preventing a powerful force. Librarians rose up and helped to protect patron privacy from the Patriot Act. Why won't they energize their base? It really is no surprise to me that the publisher's meeting did not get the results the ALA wanted. It wasn't that kind of meeting to begin with.

The ALA has told librarians not to throw any books away by February 10th. I can't believe that any librarians would seriously do that in the first place. German librarians in Berlin boxed up and hid their books during World War II, defying Nazi attempts to censor literature. If there would be any open act of defiance of the CPSIA, it will come from libraries. We librarians would do the same thing today. Applying the CPSIA to existing libraries and schools is a form of Nazi book burning and censorship, no doubt about it. We will take our books underground if we have to and continue to teach our children to read. After all "It's more dangerous to read a book than eat it."

Because the ALA will not energize their base, they are actually hurting the cause. Librarians can rise up and protest in such a way to get media and public attention. The kind of negative attention members of Congress and the CPSC do not want. Their current stand makes them appear cooperative on the surface with the CPSC and the CPSIA and as a consequence not acting in the best interest of their members or the libraries of this country. To the ALA, its past time to take the gloves off and to fight like they never have before.


  1. interesting post on the "book" side of things.

  2. I think they've been too buddy-buddy with Waxman and don't realize his advice is counter-productive to their cause.

    He's telling them to flood an already swamped office with calls because that office has 'full authority' to make the changes they want, even while he's writing that office and telling them they DO NOT have full authority to make many changes- they MUST make the ban retroactive, the MUST require testing for stapled books and print products.

    The ALA needs to be more objective and start lobbying Waxman for the changes that only Congress can make.