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Fundamentalist-dominated community to open its first library

By Valentino Warren
Nov. 17, 2017

The Hildale Branch Library in Washington County will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday afternoon to celebrate the grand opening of the first library in a city long-dominated by member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The town, which lies on the Utah-Arizona border, is the former home of now-imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. Under the control of Jeffs and other FLDS leaders, many members of the community was denied access to information through the internet and access to a diversity of reading material.

Joel Tucker, who is the director of the Washington County Library System, said the goal is to provide the whole community access to information — without regard to race or religion.

“The FLDS church does not seem excited to have us but there is a high need for the library,” Tucker said. “Those not of the church need a neutral ground where they can be welcomed and take advantage of the resources available."
Doing so came at a significant price, Tucker said.

"From purchasing the building to stocking the shelves, it has been very costly,” he said. “It has been possible only through county support, grants and donations.

Tucker also said Mohave County in Arizona, home to the neighboring town of Colorado City, will also utilize the library, and will pay $10,000 a year for three years to help offset costs.

Mohave County library director Kathy Pennell said she is thrilled because her country has never had a physical library in the area and the county bookmobile only allowed residents access to information every two weeks.

"This will allow them to have library access on a daily basis rather than just occasional visits,” Pennell said.

The opening of the Hildale branch is important to many residents in the eastern area of Washington County, as well. The small towns that lie to the west of Hildale, such as Apple Valley, and some of the small unincorporated communities will be able to access the Hildale branch as well, said Michelle Clements, who is the marketing specialist for the Washington County Library System.

As for any FLDS resistance, Clements said she was optimistic, noting she had visited with several of the residents and all of them except one were happy the library was going into the community.

"The FDLS members of one faction do oppose having the library, while the residents who are in other FLDS groups are happy to have the library open, as are the residents in the area who do not belong to any FLDS organization," Clements said. "In fact, one young FDLS woman asked to have time off from her job so she could attend the ceremony and get her library card.”

Donna Morris, the Utah State Library division director, said Washington County has seen an increase of residents who have moved to the area.

The library will be in a building that formerly housed the Steed Sunday School.

Utah is number one in the United States, per capita, in public use of libraries that serve children and adults. The biggest area of growth in the past 10 years for the Washington County Library System has been circulation, with a 60 percent increase from 931,379 to 1,483,961, Morris said.

"This is a great opportunity, it gives people room to grow and there are people who need to improve their lives in Hildale and this library gives residents the ability to start a career in whatever field they may choose, with ease and access to information they've never had," Morris said.

If some community members do decide to oppose the opening of the new library, law enforcement will be ready.

The chief of police, Jerry Darger, has not been made aware of any threats but will take precautions by having an officer at the scene.

"I didn't even know the library was opening Friday but now that I do I will make sure I attend," Darger said. "There is no perceived threat but we will stay on the side of caution."

Darin Thomas, who is a resident and the principal of Water Canyon High School and Elementary in Hildale, has heard nothing but positive responses about the library from parents who want the town to progress.

Thomas also had a chance to visit with the local police department and has fostered a great relationship with the community through his position as principal.

"I'm absolutely not worried about any conflict between police and citizens because the growth of the community and our citizens cooperation has been tremendous so we look forward to this new step as a growing community," Thomas said.

The Hildale Branch Library is located at 440 E. Newel Avenue. Hours of operation will be Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.