Paul Barrett and Martin Munt contend that private collections of fossil specimens hold back science because they are not readily accessible (Nature 512, 28; 2014), but this need not be the case. The solution lies in closer collaboration between private collectors and palaeontologists.

Private collectors provide a valuable service: many scientifically important specimens would never have been found, collected or prepared without their enthusiasm and dedication. This applies to every specimen of Archaeopteryx (the earliest bird) discovered so far. Public institutions, by contrast, often do not have the funds or staff to carry out essential excavations, or to acquire scientifically important specimens, which are not routinely donated.

Thanks to the cooperation of private collectors, such specimens can be well described and documented (using computed tomography scanning, for example). This is preferable to overlooking scientifically important data, even if access is subsequently limited.

We agree that specimens should be housed in conditions that allow verification of earlier observations. But this is not always the case for specimens held in public institutions: in our experience, access to material is sometimes denied, specimens may be lost or destroyed, or exhibited in such a way as to make detailed study difficult.