- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A public library is set to open next year in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border that hasn’t had one for decades because of controlling sect leaders who try to limit followers’ exposure to the outside world.

The library is expected to open in March 2016, Washington County Library System director Joel Tucker said. The plan is to put the library in an old schoolhouse the center of town, near the public school and town hall in Hildale, Utah.

The community is dominated by a polygamous sect led by jailed leader Warren Jeffs. He and other sect leaders try to limit members’ exposure to the outside world by prohibiting Internet and books.

The community used to have a library on the Arizona side of the town in Colorado City, but it was shuttered after Jeffs took over the group in the late 1990s, former member Isaac Wyler said.

“I think it’s really going to be good for the community. Warren has been trying to keep knowledge out of this town for so long,” he said. “In the end, look what’s winning out.”

The nearest library now is about 40 minutes away, and having easier access to information could help people in the remote community get information that’s not influenced by sect leaders, Tucker said.

“The library could be a community center not tied to the church,” he said. The startup costs are expected to be around $200,000, with grants helping to defray the expense of the project first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

The opening of this new library would mark another small step forward for those in the town eager to embrace efforts by outsiders and government to pull the town into modern society.

It has been nearly five years since Jeffs was sentenced to life for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides. The town is now split between his loyalists who still believe Jeffs is a victim of religious persecution and those who have left or been kicked out.

The majority of the 7,700 residents in the sister towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, belong to the sect. Hundreds of others have ties to FLDS members, though they are no longer followers.

But Jeffs’ flock of followers still outnumbers the others, and they dominate leadership positions in city government.

Hildale is about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.

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