Published: 09:00, 12 September 2014
| Updated: 10:12, 12 September 2014
Kent's libraries are set to be run by a charitable trust under plans unveiled by the county council today.
The council said it was confident the move would lead to a better service for the county's library users, but that it would be a matter for the trust if it wanted to maintain the existing 99 libraries.
The trust model has already been adopted by a number of other councils with mixed results, but KCC said there was evidence that in many services had improved.
Cllr Mike Hill (Con), KCC cabinet member for libraries, said: "I am very excited about it. This does give us a real opportunity to do something with the service that we could not necessarily have done ourselves."
He added: "I am quite confident that the people of Kent will have a service at least as good as they do now, if not better."
The trust will be non-profit making, but would be free to develop other commercial services around libraries.
Mr Hill said the move was part of KCC's decision to outsource services as it confronted the challenge of saving millions of pounds from its budget.
More than 500 staff will be affected as they will come under the control of the trust.
One advantage would be that as a charity, the trust would be exempt from paying business rates which currently cost KCC about £500,000 a year.
Libraries nationally have faced challenges in the last few years, with fewer people borrowing books and the growth in popularity of e-readers.
Despite this, KCC has invested heavily in redeveloping several libraries as "gateway centres" providing access to other council services. In the last three years, the council has spent £30m on redeveloping and building new libraries.
The county council says it will carry out a 12-week consultation on the idea before moving ahead with the idea.
The trust would also be responsible for Kent's archives and registration services.