Even on a cloudy day, the new Radnor Memorial Library fills with light, illuminating stacks of books, shelves of DVDs, and an expansive children's storytime room.
After two years and $7.1 million, the renovated space looks like a library fit for the 21st century. While the book and movie collections haven't expanded much, the library offers more space for group meetings, stronger Wi-Fi, a better coffee machine, fewer desktop computers, and more outlets.
But after a tour of the building, one can't help but wonder: Do people really use libraries anymore?
The answer is an emphatic "yes," according to library officials and national research.
"When I was a little kid, it was a place where you could go and get your books and then just go home," said Helen McGrane, president of the Radnor Memorial Library's board. "Now, it's a place for the community to hang out, to collaborate, to meet, and to interact."
"I love it," said Anthony Chase, 64, of Villanova, as he sat in a back corner reading the New York Times amid the stacks. "Unlike the rest of the world out there, there is an absence of screens, of loudspeakers. … It's like an alcove from the maelstrom."
On the front porch, two middle-school students sat at a table and did homework.
"My children are older now," said Nadine Champagne, a Radnor resident in her 50s, "but I love that it's a hangout for middle-school students and other students."
Over recent years, bookstores and video-rental shops have closed, falling casualty to the digital age. Yet libraries in the Philadelphia suburbs have continued to thrive. In Main Line communities like Radnor, some have even renovated and expanded.
As librarians in Philadelphia and other cities are trained to administer naloxone to overdosing patrons, or run job-readiness programs to help unemployed people find work, library staff in the wealthier suburbs serve their communities differently. In their towns, they have found, folks want to use the library as a communal space, a place where they can work remotely in a less lonely environment than a home office, or meet friends for a group project, or curl up with a cup of coffee and a physical book.
Older generations are not the only ones who want more from their libraries. In fact, millennials are frequent patrons. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that more than 50 percent of millennials said they had visited a public, non-academic library (not one on a college campus) in the last year. That number was higher than that of any other generation, according to the data.
Radnor Memorial Library executives know this well, so they cater to younger demographics. Along with the storytime room and children's area — complete with pint-sized chairs — the new building includes a teen room. Inside, there are computers and study space on one side of a wall. On the other, there are couches and a TV, which librarians can hook up to video games.
A minute's walk from downtown Wayne, the library caters to the community aspect, too, calling itself "the front porch" of the town. When deciding which aspects of the old incarnation to carry over to the new space, executive director Anny Laepple said, board members knew they had to keep the porch (although they moved it to a different side of the building).
"The porch was always really busy. A lot of folks would walk down from town and eat lunch on the porch," Laepple said. "Sit on the porch and use their laptop."
A garden on the porch is dedicated to a community member who passed away suddenly and wanted gifts given to the library in her memory. It is one of the library's many tributes. The entryway features the township's World War II memorial, commemorating residents who died in battle. A painting near the children's area depicts another frequent patron, who wanted to be remembered at the library after she died.
The walls are emblazoned with quotes selected by families who donated to the capital campaign, which raised $1 million toward the renovation (an additional $1.5 million came from the library's trust, $1 million from a grant, and the remainder from the township, according to McGrane and Laepple).
"It's been something the community has really rallied around and loved," Laepple said.
Five miles down Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, Ludington Library, which underwent a $9 million renovation in 2012, serves as a gathering place, too.
"People really have made the space their own," said Robyn Langston, Ludington's head librarian. "I feel like there are less public spaces for people to congregate these days." A nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore, which was in walking distance of Ludington, closed in recent years.
The largest of Lower Merion's six libraries, Ludington has 3½ floors of books, DVDs, art exhibits, and, like Radnor, lots of group meeting space. It also offers programming, such as speakers and classes, and a vast cake-pan collection, from which folks can check out a specialty baking pan in the same way they can a library book.
Back in Radnor, Laepple and McGrane are excited to watch more people discover the new library as the school year kicks into gear.
"There have been a lot of library renovations, and I know I'm biased, but I think this is the best one," McGrane said with a laugh, a whispered one so as not to disturb those working around her.
Some things about the library never change.