Ray Wang worked around the world before he was named dean of the library at the University of New Orleans recently.
Brought up during Mao Zedong’s communist rule over China, Wang and his friends indulged in reading and listening to international music in secret because these materials were banned.
“We would close the windows and doors just to listen to a Beethoven record,” Wang said.
Wang said libraries are more important than ever because of the role they play in the information age. Information on the Internet is becoming harder and harder to sift through, the dean noted.
“We are living in such a unique time with the rise of technology in our daily lives,” Wang said. “Looking for information on Google is still clouded by advertisements and misinformation. Libraries help to organize what is true.”
The dean's father was a missionary school administrator and his father’s colleagues were English professors. Wang went to his father’s friends to teach him English. “I practiced these lessons by reading books in English,” Wang said. “Books for authors like Charles Dickens and an English translation of ‘Les Miserables’ gave me a window to the rest of the world.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in English in 1986, Wang worked in Geneva, Switzerland, as a United Nations translator, and relocated to New York City a year and a half later. From there he applied to graduate school at Northern Illinois University and received a full scholarship.
Graduate classes required him to read 30 books a semester, many of which he had never read before.
“We were reading books many of my peers read about their whole lives,” Wang said. “Books like ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ were staples of English classes in high school and elementary schools, but in China we never read them.
“For my classmates, they had to look at these stories with different perspectives where I was experiencing them for the very first time.”
After graduate school, Wang worked in the California system of state schools for 22 years. While there, he became dean of Humboldt State University library and moved onto California State Polytechnic University. He is proud of the work he did there, leaving both libraries in better shape than when he got there. But his desire to explore led him to apply to UNO.
“My wife says it best,” Wang said. “When a person who stays in one place looks back on their life, they see a single milestone. For many that is a worthwhile goal, but I want to see as many milestones as I can. Those milestones add fulfillment and richness to life.”
Living in New Orleans has been a major perk, Wang said.
Until he moved to the South, he only heard stories about the city from people who visited. While in graduate school, Wang had a professor who vacationed in New Orleans and returned with a smile on his face. The professor dedicated an entire class to talking about the trip.
“He made us ask questions on the spot as an exercise in conversation,” Wang said. “I had no idea what to ask, so I questioned what time the people there go to sleep. The professor simply replied ‘They don’t’.’”
The Loyola Student News Service features reporters from advanced-level journalism classes at Loyola University New Orleans, directed by faculty advisers.