Conservation and access are the keys to the successful management of natural history collections. However, it can be challenging to reconcile the two aims. The development of new technologies means it is now possible to provide virtual access to items from such collections, opening them up to new audiences and approaches. Mass digitisation is an innovative approach that raises a number of questions. Should digitisation be blanket or selective in approach? Virtualisation can call on participatory science to fill in the meta-data for given items: for example, the website Les Herbonautes, described in the article, sets out a method for pre-validating data. The national bio-health database e-ReColNat is even more ambitious, aiming to develop a web portal and virtual offices for people working on its collections.