February 09, 2009

CPSIA by the numbers: Why libraries can't comply

Please forgive me for writing a library related CPSIA post. I work in a library part-time, so my livelihood is threatened on all fronts.

Last Friday, the CPSC issued a press release (not an official rule) on their intended enforcement plan come February 10th. As you know, not much has really changed for us. The CPSC may not actively pursue certain groups, but State Attorney Generals and guerrilla groups still might. It is more of the "you still have to comply even if we don't suspect you or ask for proof" mantra. One hot little item in this press release is that the CPSC is not concerned about books printed 1985 or later. This means that libraries and book publishers now need to worry about books printed pre-1985. Do we test or throw books out? How do we sort through our collections and keep kids from checking out pre-1985 book? With this blog entry, I try to show how it would be impossible to do it.

Some of these numbers are best guess estimates. It appears impossible to run a report detailing the total number of books with a pre-1985 publication date. The creators of this cataloging system never devised an easy way to do this but who would ever think we would need this? Another caveat is that even though a book has a copyright date of pre-1985, it still may have been printed post-1985 and that info may not show up in the record in a consistent enough way to run an accurate report. Plus, how do we take into account the cross over between Junior Fiction and Young Adult? In any event, the only accurate way to determine the numbers is to physically go through the shelves and look. A nearly impossible task, at least for a small library with limited staff and slashed budgets. In any event, I have to track down the one person how may be able to query the database and get the info. I'll update this when I get better numbers.

Total library inventory: 34,668
Total est. juvenile inventory: 10, 601
Percentage of juvenile inventory: 31%

Estimate of inventory pre-1985: 75% or 7951 units

Now if we have to test pre-1985 inventory at $500/book: $3,975,375

Now, I am assuming we will have to do the certified laboratory testing for several reasons. The testing costs were not included in the yearly budget, so we would have to reopen it and appropriate funds to pay for it. It is a lengthy, messy process to add to the budget, so money realistically won't be available until Oct 1st, long after the certified lab testing goes into effect. Next, we would need to pay staff to go through all of the shelves and box up the books. Oh yeah, and pay for the boxes and ship them to a certified lab clear across the country. Did I mention this library is in rural Idaho? Shipping costs alone will kill us. The testing costs exceed the entire city budget, btw.

Another problem is that the certified laboratory testing will render most of the books down to toxic goo. So why even bother with the testing.

It is unlikely that the city will appropriate funds for testing. That leaves us with throwing out 75% of our juvenile section and replacing those books. We would still need to estimate close to $4 million dollars for replacement costs, if replacements can be found on all the titles. Plus we would need to pay staff to sort, box up/throw out books, buy replacements, and process them. And did I mention books are heavy. I would love to see a garbage truck pick up our trash can loaded up with books! Of course, if they are banned hazardous substances, we can't just throw them in the dumpster. We would need a hazardous materials removal specialist to do that....

And really, this starts to become silly. We don't regulate what books or audio visual materials a child can checkout. This brings our entire collection of 35,000 items under suspicion. What will the kids read while we are in the process of removing, testing, replacing thousands of books?

So our realistic choices are:
1. Shut down our children's section, or
2. Ban kids 12 and younger from the library.

Not so realistic considering how popular our library is with kids.

BTW, the hottest new read is 1984 by George Orwell or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I think it would be good to send our Congressional Representatives copies, just make sure it is printed pre-1985.


  1. un-frickin-believable, isn't it? I sick of talking to librarians who just don't see that it is a problem

  2. This whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. Now I'm really glad that I tend to buy multiple copies of good books when I find them. Doesn't look like I'll be finding many more copies of Landmark biographies or We Were There books or Hercules.

    And meanwhile, the law has really done nothing to change the original situation, which was at least partly based on the problem of bribable inspectors in a far off land. Mulching books here will do absolutely nothing to change the safety of cheap goods from overseas.

  3. I've just found out about this whole issue a couple of hours ago and have been spending most of the this time staring at my computer screen, agape. My first impulse, flawed as it may be, is for libraries to inform their "customers" that kids under 12 are banned. They would be provided with letters informing them that this is because of legislation passed by Congress, along with the contact information of their Congressmen.

  4. Anonymous5:23 PM

    Almost $4 million? …wow.
    Here’s a cheaper testing method: give pre-1985 children’s books to children and let them chew on them, eat them, drool on them, color in them, sleep with books—all those things that children normally do to books.
    Pre-1985 children’s books have already had 24+ years of real world testing for lead and other dangers (an no animals were harmed in the process).