By MAREN WRIGHT
WASHINGTON (Jan. 31, 2009)—The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Friday that it will postpone lead testing requirements that would have put libraries at risk of liability lawsuits for loaning children's books.
"We are really happy to hear that," said Cathy Ashby, director of the Ruth Enlow Library of Garrett County.
Congress tightened limits on lead levels in children's toys as part of the Consumer Project Safety Improvement Act, following a lead paint scare from imported children's toys. The new requirements were set to take effect Feb. 10 and carried the weight of civil or criminal penalties for distributors of children's products, including books.
This decision, once entered in the Federal Register, will give Maryland public libraries one year to decide how to bring their collections of more than 5 million children's books into compliance.
"We were really stymied as to how to proceed," Ashby said, stating she had considered having to remove all the children's books from the library or tell children under the age of 12 that they could not enter.
While pleased, advocates of libraries would like to see more than a postponement of a troubling requirement.
"I'm gratified that we've had some action, but it still doesn't solve the problem, said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's Washington office. "This gives us a year to make the commission understand that books are safe and we're not the problem."
Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said that the commission is still attempting to resolve concerns.
"We'll work on a set of exemptions for lead-free materials, and of printing ink included in that set, which would resolve the concerns for libraries," Wolfson said.
"I can see both sides," said Urbana Regional Library visitor Jennifer Sheriff. "I think there must be a compromise.
This hiatus gives the commission breathing room for finding the compromise and discerning the best mechanism for implementing what lawmakers intended.
Library patrons, especially the under-12 set, can breathe a sigh of relief and pick up another good book.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.