Libraries have transformed in the last decade from silent places that warehouse books to vibrant community centers that invite patrons to recreate and relax in addition to reading and researching.

At the Westport Public Library, that concept has expanded the idea to the library grounds, which include a tranquil swath of land along the Saugatuck River and Jesup Green. Throughout the summer, patrons and passersby have been encouraged to linger on the grounds reading, eating, playing chess and playing ping-pong.

On Wednesday, the library offered a riverside yoga class and invited people to simply enjoy its tranquil grounds on a beautiful day of comfortable temperatures, sunny skies and towering cumulus clouds.

The weather was so enjoyable that Children's Librarian Deborah White moved a Storytime program for children outside.

As Sarah O'Donaghue, of Weston, led the yoga class, Elaisa Rubio and her young charge, Samir Meleis, 3, of Westport, picnicked and then walked along the stone retaining wall overlooking the river to watch the swans, seagulls, egrets, ducks, a heron and other waterfowl.

"We came to check out some books. It's a beautiful day. Sammy loves the river and the library," said Rubio, a recent graduate of Fairfield University from Easton, Mass.

Cathal Strain, of Fairfield, used the same words to describe the day. "It's a beautiful day. I thought I'd come out. It's nice along here," said Strain, who took a break from his research at the library to take in the river view. As he sat there, a pair of swans paddled by and four egrets entertained him.

"He loves the ducks," Lauren Walters said of her almost 2-year-old son, Nolan.

The library tries to accommodate patrons' varied interests. On the bluestone patio off the library's lower level there is a ping-pong table and a half-dozen portable tables and chairs arranged cafe style. Nearby, a chessboard is etched into a concrete table.

"People drop by and use the space to relax. They move the furniture closer to the river and create their own space," said library spokeswoman Joan Hume. "People have lunch out here. They read. People just sit. We're lucky to have this space," she said, pointing out that there is an inviting mix of sun and shade.

Hume said she has seen people set up croquet wickets and play the lawn game. Others relax by knitting. And some simply nap. At noon Wednesday, one man stretched out on a concrete picnic table and slept.

"Ping-pong is popular. I've seen artists sketch. I've seen people strum their guitars. There's something peaceful about being along

the water, the river," Hume said.

The dozen people who took O'Donaghue's yoga class couldn't agree more.

"The breeze was very nice, the sun. It was very peaceful," said Jake Melvin, 18, of Weston.

"It's visually pleasing. If you open your eyes you're not met with four walls, but with scenic downtown Westport," O'Donaghue said.

Her sister, Nora O'Donaghue, 18, of Weston, admitted she couldn't close her eyes when Sarah told the yoga students to do so during the class. She said she was too distracted by the sight of the egrets and swans.

One woman who was just walking along the river path came across the yoga class unexpectedly. She decided to spread her towel on the grass and join in. After the class concluded, she was delighted to learn that the library administration is contemplating offering a weekly yoga class to its roster of events.

Meg Barone is a freelance writer.