The Franklin Public Library is considered America's first public library. In 1778, when the town was incorporated, the designated name Exeter was changed to Franklin in honor of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. In return Franklin was asked to donate a bell for the town's church steeple. Acknowledging that "sense" was preferable to "sound", Dr. Franklin responded with an offer of books for the use of the town's residents. When the volumes arrived, a great controversy arose over who should be allowed to use them. On November 20th, 1790, those attending Franklin's town meeting voted to lend the books to all Franklin inhabitants free of charge. This vote established the Franklin collection as the first public library in the United States. The original Franklin collection is still housed in a book case in the library's Reading Gallery.
In 1904, the Ray Memorial Building was dedicated and the Franklin Library got a permanent building - a gift from the Ray family. That same year, the Ray family also established the Ray Memorial fund to provide for and maintain the building.
The Franklin Library Association ran the library until 1981 when the Franklin Public Library became a department of the town of Franklin. From 1987 to 1989, the Library underwent extensive restoration to maintain the original beauty and splendor of this beautiful classical Greek structure and to add a children's wing.