Protesting CPSIA – an activists’ guide for bookstores and libraries

While some parents might relish saying bye-bye to Elmo, recent legislation is causing parents to have to say bye-bye to affordable childrens books and classic favorites.

While some parents might relish saying bye-bye to Elmo, recent legislation is causing parents to have to say bye-bye to affordable childrens' books and classic favorites.

As people are beginning to realize, the recent passage of CPSIA has deep ramifications for education and literacy, reducing access to books in stores, libraries and charities.  Hardest hit are the economically disadvantaged children among us.  Here are some ideas to help get started in protesting and raising support for the repeal of this disastrous bill.

  1. Libraries and book stores: outrage your patrons and customers.  You know those shelves left empty when you were forced to pull all those childrens’ classics?  Resist the temptation to refill them with shiny, new, “safe” books.  Leave them empty.  In fact cross them with orange caution tape.  Add a note telling people that due to government legislation,  their children can’t have those books.  Leave a stack of 3×5 action cards for them, explaining the unfortunate effects of the bill and giving them information for contacting their representative, etc.
  2. Libraries and book stores: Or, leave them full – so patrons and customers can see all the books they can’t have, and cross them with tape.
  3. Book stores: Hold a black market sale on childrens’ books to raise awareness and funds for your local library (they’re gonna need them to replace all those books).  Rules are simple.  You buy the book (and all proceeds go to the library).  You don’t get the book.  Absurd, you say?  Exactly.
  4. Library patrons: Here’s one suggestion I got off the Twitter-wire via @raymondpirouz:  start a guerrilla style campaign.  Grab said stack of 3×5 cards and march out to your local library.  Make sure you’ve written “This book is illegal” in big scary letters on the front.  A skull and crossbones would be a nice touch.  Put relevant calls to action on the back.  Slip a card into every childrens’ book you can find that was printed before 1986.
  5. Online booksellers: Upload all of your childrens’ books everywhere you list with your descriptions changed to something to this effect: “Not for sale. Due to recent legislation, the U.S. government has determined that this item is illegal, and cannot be made available to children.  Contact your U.S. representative for more information.”  I don’t know how other marketplaces will support this, but I can promise you that Biblio will back you 100% – in fact, if we get enough booksellers protesting this way, maybe we could put together a whole dedicated section to all of the childrens’ books that we’re not going to sell you.
  6. Everyone: petition your representative to amend or repeal CPSIA.

There is a chance to have this law changed, and some very strong grassroots support underway.  But, there is also opposition – mostly brought on by alarmist news media playing the are-you-really-sure-the-hot-dog-from-the-ballpark-is-safe game.   As you know, though, powerful grassroots movements have to start with ordinary, concerned citizens and small businesses and organizations, not with 40 point headlines in the mass media.  Please add your own ideas and play a part (however small) in raising awareness and preventing this legislation from snapping shut the covers on the educational opportunities of children everywhere.

4 thoughts on “Protesting CPSIA – an activists’ guide for bookstores and libraries”

  1. R.J.G. says:

    As a Canadian, we are in favour of law and regulations intended to protect the public as long as based on objective science and not used to manipulate market forces improperly.
    We are in favor of law that protects all people regardless of age or economic status i.e. poor children versus well to do
    We had a very quick look at Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) write up. Not an expert on the subject but not satisfied your interpretaions of act and regulations is complete, or more positive options are not available.
    If protection of children is as important as education, may wish to work with the legislators, schools and libraries.
    How about product description that includes book in compliance with “Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), U.S.A.”

    Two edges to every sword. “A skull and crossbones” is not a nice touch in this world and these times for any age or social status, or any country.

    Usually on vacation

  2. Sarah Natividad says:

    Hi R.J.G., I’d like to address your concerns.

    First, the sheer importance of a cause does not sanctify every law made in that cause’s name. Everyone agrees our children are vitally important, but some don’t think shutting down their moms’ and dads’ businesses in the middle of a recession is the best way to help keep them safe from something that was never a danger to them– books.

    Second, if you would like a closer look at CPSIA to satisfy yourself that the law does indeed apply to books, you needn’t take anyone’s word for it. You will find what you need on the CPSC’s own website: In this document, CPSC General Counsel Cheryl Falvey verifies that CPSIA and its third party testing requirements do indeed apply to books in the manner outlined in this post.

    Finally, the work with legislators, schools, and libraries is ongoing, but has made little headway. The American Library Association originally supported CPSIA, but once the law was passed and they discovered it applied to books, they began fighting against it. Despite the formidable opposition of librarians, the legislators who wrote this law are so assured of its virtue that they refuse to budge. Even when its obvious flaws are pointed out, they fall back (as you apparently do) to the righteousness of the cause. However, the real world does not run on an eco-friendly blend of pure righteousness and unicorn farts. We need laws that work, not laws that destroy the village in order to save it.

  3. Carol Baicker-McKee says:

    Hi R.J.G.,

    I’d like to add to what Sarah Natividad has said.
    First, Sarah is right that the law does indeed apply to books (especially novelty books and books published in 1984 or earlier). Here’s a link to the most recent article about the law in Publisher’s Weekly (and it has links to earlier articles):

    The problems with the law are multiple: it does not allow for risk assessment, so even though the risk of lead poisoning from a book is miniscule (the Centers for Disease Control rated it a 0.5 on a 1-10 scale and there has NEVER been a case of lead poisoning traced back to books), they have to be treated no differently from high risk items; the law is so inflexible that the CPSC doesn’t have the ability to opt for commonsense tweaks like the one you suggest; under the law, products for older children up to 13 are treated no differently that products for babies, so even though the only way to get lead poisoning from a book is to eat it, even middle grade novels are illegal, not just baby board books; and the law removes choice from parents who are normally empowered to make all kinds of safety choices for their children – in the U.S., you can still buy a GUN that has lead in the steel, plus lead bullets, if you want for your five year old because a gun is not considered to be primarily a children’s product, but you can’t legally purchase an older copy of Mike Mulligan that might have trace amounts of lead (and obviously this is a crazy situation).

    Sarah is also right that many people and organizations have been fighting to no avail for reasonable solutions, but there has been no significant advance in that direction.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to me that anyone is enforcing the law. Until they do, I fear we’ll see little movement in the fight against the unreasonable parts of it, and by then it will be even more entrenched and harder to change. One huge barrier is lack of awareness – most Americans are completely unaware of the law and how it will affect them, and I suspect most would not be happy with the consequences.

  4. R.J.G. says:

    The book manifesto touches lightly on the depression era economics implicit in the regulations ie artificial manipulation of markets by reduction of book supply and protectionism. Regulations will have the short term support of new authors, the publishing industry, many booksellers with newer titles, many politicians and of course the “alarmist” media.’s posting correctly pointed out likely increased prices to the consumer and noted the special interest of libraries.
    Very pleased and surprised by several responders to the post by their professional comments and approaches to the regulations. Their comments indicate the book regulations are unscientific and not objective. ie artificial restraint of market and possibly protectionism. Both confirm’s posting relects frustration by a few sellers and healthy disagreement with regulations possible.

    Over the years we have watched necessary regulators and regulations silenced or removed for whatever reason(s) in a variety of industries. Many cival servants lost their jobs and careers as they refused to approve a product or service or remove a control. Financial regulations and Ponzi schemes are not isolated examples.

    Support for book regulations is likely more widespread than indicated by the posting. But concerns of individual sellers (not all) and for consumers in general appears to have merit.’s posting too open ended, and “A skull and crossbones” approach unacceptable here.

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