Anyone with an Ottawa Public Library card now has the keys to a trove of free digital music downloads.

The library's new "Freegal" service, which went live on Friday, offers access to the entire digital catalogues of the Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia labels.

Hundreds of thousands of recordings are available through dozens of music genres that can be browsed via the library's website. Unlike with other library materials, these tunes aren't on loan, but are for patrons to keep for as long as they'd like to.

All it takes is a click of a button for patrons, said Diana Pepall, the library's program manager for collection management at the library.

"And then you have it. You have it forever," she said.

"It's a departure for the library because what we're doing is giving people access to material they don’t have to return," Pepall said.

While the mp3 files won't cost library members a cent, the library will be paying for a certain number of downloads a year. The Ottawa Public Library subscribes to the service through the U.S. new-media company Library Ideas.

Pepall said patrons will have to be limited to downloading three songs a week.

"This is a way to download material legally," she said. The name "Freegal" itself is a portmanteau of "free" and "legal."

Nick Tytor, who's packed his iPod with thousands of songs, leaving only a few gigabytes of space left, plans to take advantage of the new service.

"I do like the idea of libraries evolving with the times," Tytor said.