The Public Libraries Act was passed in Parliament in 1850. Warrington established a free library in 1848; however, Salford Council was the first to establish an unconditionally free public lending library. This library was opened in January 1850. Salford Library contained 7,000 volumes when it opened and by the end of the first year the number exceeded 22,000. The library was open everyday (except Sunday) from 10am until dusk (9pm in summer) and the total number of visitors exceeded 160,000. People borrowing from the library ranged from students, policemen, bricklayers, painters, and mill-hands etc. Library records state that in the first year there were 2,696 borrowers of which 507 were female.

Ben H. Mullen became curator and chief librarian in 1892 and we still hold a collection of his posters in the local history library.