The indenture that conveyed the John Carter Brown Library into the keeping of Brown University in 1901 stipulated that in perpetual trust the Library was to “preserve its individual identity as a whole,” with a separate endowment, always to have “its own separate and special housing. . ., and to be kept separate and distinct from any other Library.”  The care, oversight, and management of the Library and building were delegated to a five-member Committee of Management to be elected by the Trustees and Fellows of Brown University.

In 1984, the Corporation of Brown University approved an extension of the Library’s original governance structure by establishing the Library’s Board of Governors, which includes both elected members and three ex officio non-voting members:  the Chairman of the Associates of the John Carter Brown Library, the University Librarian, and the Chairman of the Faculty Liaison Committee.  The President of the University and the Chairman of the