Local and superficial near-infrared (NIR) optical-property characterization of turbid biological tissues can be achieved by measurement of spatially resolved diffuse reflectance at small source-detector separations (<1.4 mm). However, in these conditions the inverse problem, i.e., calculation of localized absorption and the reduced scattering coefficients, is necessarily sensitive to the scattering phase function. This effect can be minimized if a new parameter of the phase function gamma, which depends on the first and the second moments of the phase function, is known. If gamma is unknown, an estimation of this parameter can be obtained by the measurement, but the uncertainty of the absorption coefficient is increased. A spatially resolved reflectance probe employing multiple detector fibers (0.3-1.4 mm from the source) is described. Monte Carlo simulations are used to determine gamma, the reduced scattering and absorption coefficients from reflectance data. Probe performance is assessed by measurements on phantoms, the optical properties of which were measured by other techniques [frequency domain photon migration (FDPM) and spatially resolved transmittance]. Our results show that changes in the absorption coefficient, the reduced scattering coefficient, and gamma can be measured to within +/-0.005 mm(-1), +/-0.05 mm(-1), and +/-0.2, respectively. In vivo measurements performed intraoperatively on a human skull and brain are reported for four NIR wavelengths (674, 811, 849, 956 nm) when the spatially resolved probe and FDPM are used. The spatially resolved probe shows optimum measurement sensitivity in the measurement volume immediately beneath the probe (typically 1 mm(3) in tissues), whereas FDPM typically samples larger regions of tissues. Optical-property values for human skull, white matter, scar tissue, optic nerve, and tumors are reported that show distinct absorption and scattering differences between structures and a dependence on the phase-function parameter gamma.