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What do I know about Sikhism? Not a lot - but a quick flick through the Pears Encyclopaedia (1986-87) on the shelf produces the answer in less than 30 seconds. Four inches of small print in the section on Ideas and Beliefs is quickly reached via the index at the back of this much- thumbed red volume.

But what does Webster's Interactive Encyclopaedia (Focus, pounds 9.99) have to say? Bump up the computer, find the right icon, get the CD-Rom loaded and running, more icon-hopping, do a word search. Four minutes. From the starting blocks, the familiar book is an easy winner.

But the cross-references on the CD-Rom are fascinating and within a minute or two I am checking out the campaigns of long-forgotten wars, zipping around Imperial India, eventually finishing up with a sound-clip of Edward VIII's abdication speech in 1936.

If you have any imagination or curiosity at all, the CD-Rom will get you hooked. They call it a reference tool, but the truth is, it is a brilliant stimulus for the imagination rather than a nuts-and-bolts look-up list.

The reason the book beat the disk in my Sikhism test is a matter of familiarity. Using the computer version can be frustrating - full of dead-ends. But the colour, sound and sheer power of the word-searching make up for all that. And at less than pounds 10, this is a reference CD that is at last coming on to the shelves at a realistic price.

At pounds 39.99, the Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library is a more sophisticated, more specialised shelf of famous books, linked at last by computer power into one coherent source of information. You'll find all the stalwarts here: Roget's Thesaurus, Longman's Dictionary, The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations, Usage and Abusage, Hutchinson's own encyclopaedia, The Compact Chronology of World History and The Helicon Book of Days. Mix and match from those 8 million words and you have no excuse for ignorance.

It is unashamedly a series of books on disk. There are no video clips, no soundbites. But the Penguin information is wonderfully to hand if you keep the disk in the drive while you are working with the word-processor. You can click on a word, click on the Library button and immediately all the references among the 8 million come up - that's powerful. I came up with 22 references to Sikhism in 22 seconds.

`Webster's Interactive Encyclopedia', Focus Multimedia, pounds 39.99.

`The Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library', Penguin, pounds 39.99.

DOROTHY WALKER

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