Service of Reading the Small Print

May 4th, 2011

Categories: Cheating, Details, Disappointment, Double Checking, Full Disclosure, Rejection, Small Print


Do you sign up for free computer programs without reading the agreement’s small print? I do and feel nervous every time, expecting to get a bill for $zillions or find out I’ve opened myself up to some kind of catastrophic obligation.

People get married with prenuptial agreements and 50 percent don’t pay too much attention to the “in sickness and in health” part of their wedding vows. Maybe the feeling is that canny lawyers can slip you out of almost anything including employment and client contracts, wills and rental agreements. There’s a joke in our family that when submitting an insurance claim be prepared to learn that the company doesn’t pay for operations done on Tuesdays, when you had yours, and that the tree that knocked a hole in your roof was an elm, and they only cover damage from maples.

nypubliclibraryAccording to Michael Barbaro who wrote “In Elite Library Archives, a Dispute Over a Trove,” in The New York Times, writer Paul Brodeur wants back all the papers he gave to the New York Public Library many years ago. Seems the library distilled to 53 the 320 boxes this 79 year old novelist-turned-investigative reporter donated and told him that he has until August to pick up the remaining boxes or they’ll trash them.

Barbaro reported that archivists “noted that Mr. Brodeur had explicitly given up all rights to the papers when he signed a ‘deed of gift’ donating them to the library. According to that deed, the library ‘reserves the right to return’ any items it wishes and ‘may dispose of the same as the library determines in its sole discretion.'”

No doubt the library has run out of space and is revisiting all of its archives to make room for more papers without having to rent or buy additional space. Whatever the reason, the result hurt Mr. Brodeur’s ego and expectations. He was told in 1997 that his papers had been “reviewed and prepared for public viewing” and were in the permanent collection’s 88 miles of stacks. Last summer, library staff informed him that they had weeded out such things as “photocopied news stories and multiple drafts of New Yorker writings.”

pilesofcartonsWhat’s sad is that the papers–whether in the 267 boxes that the library plans to toss or the entire 300+ cartons if Brodeur wins the argument–will no doubt become moldy and useless in the shed he’s built for them on his Cape Cod property. In any case, it doesn’t appear from the photo of the shed in the paper that researchers will be able to access them from the cramped wood structure.

Do you think the library should give Brodeur back all his boxes? Have you been burned by not reading the small print? Do you feel that anyone with enough money or power can find or create a loophole to slip through whether the print is large or small?


6 Responses to “Service of Reading the Small Print”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    It’s not the small print that causes us all so many problems, it’s the language. The wording. I recently took advantage of a Chase bank “special” that is now costing me high interest charges because I failed to grasp the temporal nature of the offer. At the time I thought it a lifeline; now it’s really a sinker. My advice: Steer clear of anything that looks too good to be true!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    WOW, you are correct. The language will get you more than the size of the print. I am sorry that you were misled. Multiply you by millions of others and just think what the profits will be. Makes me sick, really, to recognize how some businesses succeed on flimflammery rather than for providing great product and service.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    My rules are simple: Read it only if genuinely interested in acquisition of a product or making a business deal. I don’t mind the reading if I have time, and generally find something to the advantage of the seller. At that point, one either confronts the seller in order to make a mutually acceptable deal, or goes without the product and/or service involved. Good lawyers are usually available to get one out of trouble, but why go to the time and/or expense? It’s easy enough to avoid the approaching train if it’s seen coming and/or if it’s heard tooting!

  4. Jeremiah Said:


    I won’t be the first to write that this country suffers from far too many lawyers. We need fewer lawyers, judges, laws, rights – civil or otherwise, courts and less fine print now!

    What’s wrong with reasonableness, common sense and the common law?

    As to Paul Brodeur, in the interest of full disclosure, I went to school with the man. Didn’t much care for him then, and I probably wouldn’t now.

    However, I feel some sympathy for him. He foisted his junk off on the NY Public Library, now they
    want to give much of it back to him. Why should they get to keep only the good stuff?

    But what I think is really going on is that Brodeur realizes that the juggernaught of technology is soon going to make reading obsolete, so it doesn’t really make any difference what happens to all his paper anyway.


  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The small print my mother warned me about had to do with operations in hospitals. For some reason I tucked it in the back of my mind and it came out just in time when I was in one for an emergency procedure. I read a sheet I was to sign and crossed out the part about “or an associate” and initialed that deletion. It appeared in the part of the release that noted that Dr. So and So [my doctor] or an associate would perform the operation.

    If ordering service for a client I am far more careful, dotting every i and crossing every t I can think of. But for myself, I wish I were as diligent as you are. A lineup of double negatives that canny lawyers write gets me to put down the document every time.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This is why I think that your point about what Brodeur realizes hits the spot.

    Family members of mine were or are excellent photographers including my father, sister and a nephew. I love taking pictures myself and have albums full of them.

    After I sorted through zillions of family photos left in my mom’s apartment when she died, I sent stacks to relevant recipients and still had to toss countless pounds of them, breaking my heart.

    I nevertheless keep taking and enjoying pictures. Thank goodness the digital kind don’t take up the space the printed ones and their negatives did. Every time I see a great shot I still get excited and snap it but at the bottom of my heart I know that in the end nobody can do anything with all of this stuff but toss it.

    The difference between us and Mr. Brodeur is that none of us are famous or well known so our stuff will end up in the junk heap that much faster.

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