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New library a sign of changing times in polygamous Utah town?

HILDALE, Utah -- The recent opening of a new public library in a mostly-polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border marks the latest sign that the community is slowly embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society.

The new library in Hildale, Utah was officially opened on Nov. 18 with a ribbon cutting where members of the polygamous sect mingled with county officials and other residents at the opening ceremony, the Spectrum newspaper in St. George reports.

The library was opened about five years after thousands of dollars’ worth of books was removed from a schoolhouse in the community, leaving people without books for a library. The removal of the books, some of which were found burned, led to a major rift in the community between members of the polygamous group and non-followers.

Utah’s Washington County built the new library, two blocks from a public school that reopened two years ago after being closed for more than a decade. A large wall mural inside the library near a reading nook features a wilderness scene with a message at the top: “Anywhere from the stars to the center of the earth can be visited between the covers of a book.”

On opening day, one girl went looking for “Hunger Game” books while another girl excitedly talked about her new library card.

During the ceremony, Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow thanked everyone who worked on the project and paid tribute to the community’s pioneers who settled the remote town. Utah State Librarian Donna Morris told the crowd they should appreciate the new facility.

“You have a phenomenal library to enjoy,” Morris said. “You have free Internet access. You’re going to have access to information of whatever kind you want and whatever you want to do.”

It’s not clear how much members of the polygamous group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, will use the library since they’ve been told in the past not to use the internet or read about current events.

A documentary by Showtime penetrated the secrecy of abuse and exploitation within the FLDS sect led by polygamist Warren Jeffs. Showtime

The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, which disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, is in a Texas prison serving a life sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting girls he considered brides. He still sends orders from behind bars, authorities say.

Government officials have been cracking down on the sect on a number of fronts in recent years. Utah state officials have seized more than 150 homes from sect members refusing to pay $100-a-month occupancy fee to a state-run trust that once belonged to the church.

Federal prosecutors charged 11 sect members with fraud and money laundering accusing them of orchestrating a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

A jury in Phoenix decided in March that the towns violated the constitutional rights of nonbelievers by denying them basic services such as police protection, building permits and water hookups. The Department of Justice has asked a judge to disband the town police department as punishment.

In recent years, a slow but steady stream of people have left or been kicked out of the sect. Many stay in the community. Others who left years ago have come back.

Tamara Barlow and Rachel Timpson proposed the library to county library director Joel Tucker two years ago as a way to help non-followers find their footing.

“I, myself, was raised with very little school education,” Tamara Barlow told The Spectrum earlier this year. “Now, especially with a lot of people coming out of the FLDS, we need a place for women and children - and men, too, but especially the women and kids - to feel safe.”

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